We all live with the understanding that social isolation is essential to combat the spread of COVID-19, but one community in particular is feeling the full emotional impact of this isolation: Senior care residents. Across the country, older age groups are shown to be more susceptible to serious illness from COVID-19. As a result, independent and assisted living facilities have remained closed to visitors for the majority of 2020. For months now, our most vulnerable population has been without regular contact with loved ones.
To help lower the impact of isolation, staff members began looking for creative ways to keep residents’ spirits up. In June, a North Carolina-based nursing home facility posted on its Facebook page that it was looking for pen pals for residents. The post featured pictures of residents holding up signs that bear variations on the same message. One woman’s sign reads “My name is Linda. Will you be my pen pal? I like art, music and reading!” In another photo, a man named Alex beams at the camera and holds up his sign: “I like guitars and old rock music. Will you be my pen pal?” It didn’t take long for the post to go viral, racking up more than 13,000 shares in a few days. The program was a huge success. Letters, snacks, craft supplies, jerseys, blankets, books and more were sent to the facility, and residents were excited to write back to their pen pals.
Here in Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is different than other branches in that we serve the entire state of Pennsylvania. The majority of our patron interactions take place over the phone. Now that we are able to circulate audiobooks statewide once again, we have been hearing firsthand how our patrons have been affected by this long period of social isolation. Even those who had a television for company expressed that the stress of a never-ending news cycle did more harm than good. I was struck by how many patrons expressed their gratitude at being sent books once again. And while I am touched by my small part in making someone else happy, I can’t help but empathize and hold some of that loneliness in my heart while going about my days of remote work. Thankfully it only took a few days for that aforementioned Facebook post to make its way onto my news feed, and as someone who loves writing and receiving letters, I was moved by the outpouring of love those seniors received.
That being said, here is a short list of Pennsylvania senior care facilities that put out a recent call for pen pals. Maybe this could be a fun, new project for you and your family. Maybe you, like me, are looking for an outlet to show off your new quarantine endeavor (Polaroid photography) or share stories about your new quarantine coworker (roommate’s cat). Maybe you want to reach out to a facility you have a personal connection to and see if they have their own pen pal program. Whether it be a friendly note, a drawing or a poem – a few lines of words could mean the world.
Masonic Villages of Pennsylvania
Simply write a letter introducing yourself and listing a few of your hobbies and interests. We’ll match you up with a resident who will respond to your letter.
Masonic Village at Elizabethtown – Pen Pal
c/o Emily Connors
600 Freemason Drive
Elizabethtown, PA 17022
Masonic Village at Lafayette Hill – Pen Pal
c/o Angela Hurst
801 Ridge Pike
Lafayette Hill, PA 19444
Masonic Village at Sewickley – Pen Pal
c/o Richelle DiVito
1000 Masonic Drive
Sewickley, PA 15143
Masonic Village at Warminster – Pen Pal
c/o Trisha Lamb
850 Norristown Road
Warminster, PA 18974
United Way of Franklin County, PA
Pen Pals may address letters to “Dear Friend” and mail to:
Franklin County Area Agency on Aging
600 Norland Ave
Chambersburg, PA 17201.
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