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Virtual Pen Pal Session Connects Generations

March 29, 2021

Science students from the University of Waterloo didn’t let COVID stop them from reaching out to bridge the generations and brighten the day of local long-term care (LTC) residents. The Advocacy Team of the University’s Science Society recently organized a unique team-up with peopleCare, that drew their students online for a group event, writing letters that have brought tons of smiles to the residents at AR Goudie LTC in Kitchener.

Long-term care resident reading a letter written by university students in her room

To hear about the residents’ experiences during COVID, and help the students write meaningful letters, organizers were joined by Robert “Bob” Westlake, a resident of AR Goudie, along with team members from the Home.

Westlake, 84, is a country music fanatic and former electronics technician and outdoorsman. A very social person, Westlake enjoys participating in all the fun and stimulating activities the Home offers and welcomed the opportunity to connect with new faces from the community and share his story.

Bob Westlake and AR Goudie staff members on-screen at the virtual letter writing event

While programs and events in the Home may look a little different right now, Bryan Maldonado, Recreation Therapist at AR Goudie, says the team works hard to keep residents engaged.

“Making sure our residents enjoy the best quality of life possible at all times is our priority,” says Maldonado. “At the moment, our activities are taking place in smaller groups, and one silver lining is the stronger bonds created between residents and staff as they spend more 1-on-1 time together.”

Finding meaningful ways to stay connected is extremely valuable to well-being – during a pandemic or any other time – and the online pen pal session was a wonderful opportunity for residents to make some new friends within their local community.

“Our residents really enjoy hearing about what members of our community are up to these days, and how they’re dealing with the effects of the pandemic,” says Tonya Claydon, Director of Programs at the Home. “These letters offer them a first-hand perspective and a chance to build great connections.”

Long-term care resident holding a letter written by university student

According to Courtney Kates, a member of the Advocacy Team who organized the event, the benefits of connecting with the residents go both ways.

“Our team works to create a positive environment and improve the mental, physical and emotional health of our students,” says Kates. “We thought it would be nice for students to write these letters to long-term care residents as a way to give back to their community and spread positivity at a time when we all need it most.”

Event organizer Courtney Kates on-screen at virtual letter writing event

When the Advocacy team was looking for an organization to work with on this event, Kates says they decided to approach peopleCare because of the high standard of care and quality of life in peopleCare Homes that was evident from everything she read and learned. Having seen first-hand the value of intergenerational programs, for peopleCare, the team-up with the science students was a natural fit.

“Every day, across peopleCare Homes, students are learning and growing through hundreds of placement and volunteer opportunities,” says Sheena Campbell, Vice President of Communications and Engagement for peopleCare, adding that, in a normal year, local students often drop in to perform concerts or lead classes and presentations for residents to enjoy.

peopleCare’s many partnerships with colleges and universities include a collaboration with the University of Western Ontario on a unique intergenerational program that co-houses their music students in a peopleCare Home for a year. Students give performances, play music and share games and meals with residents, all while cultivating their own appreciation of the value of intergenerational connections and community, Three-Years-In Student Musician in Residence Program Enriching Lives. Although now living in a different province, past participant Hailey Witt keeps in touch with her 100+ “grandfriends,” via letter – most recently sharing a virtual concert on the Home’s Facebook page.

This past year, peopleCare has worked hard to support families to safely be at the side of their loved ones and is grateful for new testing solutions and vaccines that are delivering on their promise of helping to protect residents. Campbell says the letters from the University of Waterloo students are one more example of the overwhelming support the community has shown residents and staff in peopleCare Homes during COVID.

“While nothing replaces the presence of loved ones in our lives, our staff care for residents like they were family members. Not to mention the incredible feeling residents and staff get from having a community showing up for them in dozens of kindhearted and creative ways,” says Campbell. “Kudos to these thoughtful University of Waterloo students for reaching out via technology to create new connections with the older generation of people living in our Homes. This heartfelt gesture has meant so much to our residents.”