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Wanted: penpals for Collingwood seniors living in nursing homes

The nursing homes are locked down and not allowing visitors, but you can reach out to a senior with some snail mail
A Bay Haven resident works on one of her handmade postcards for the Golden Oldies PostCard Club. Contributed photo

Local nursing homes are using both modern and old-fashioned communication methods to keep residents connected to family, friends, and even strangers.

Bay Haven Care Community, a family-owned retirement and long term care facility located in Collingwood, is using video calling, lots of activities, and hand-written letters to keep people positive amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Between our nursing team and the residents it really feels like home,” said April Lawson, the recreation manager at Bay Haven. “It’s nice to be able to come to another home and make it feel like home for everyone.”

The long term care facility has adhered to the government’s strict no visitor policy, so they’ve found other ways to keep residents connected to their loved ones. The home has set up Skype and FaceTime on several iPads, and they have been increasingly active on their Facebook page, uploading photos about ongoings inside, so relatives remain updated as well.

“We’re sending a virtual hug,” said Lawson.

Within the home, residents keep their spirits up by playing their favourite games, such as Noodle Ball, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with a makeshift party, and painting colourful posters in honour of spring.

“We are definitely doing our best to entertain everyone, especially in this time of uncertainty,” said Marco Sanfilippo, Bay Haven’s marketing specialist.

The home has also integrated an official postcard club to keep residents connected to the community. Families, friends, and other retirement homes can send Bay Haven a personalized postcard, and the residents will create their own and send them back.

“We’ve been running this program on and off for several years,” said Sanfilippo. “We’ve received beautiful postcards and drawings from grandchildren and just members of the community, we’ve even been in contact with the Queen! It’s a great way to reach out so no one feels isolated.”

“And in a way, our residents are giving back to the community as well,” Lawson added.

Lawson is humbled by the number of people who have come together to support the home in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

“People are noticing us more, and they are searching to find ways to be positive in this crazy world,” she said. “It’s a small community, nursing and retirement homes, but in this position in particular, it’s really important for us to stick together.”

Simcoe County has also implemented a pen-pal program in all of their long-term care homes over the last two weeks.

The county is encouraging school-aged children to write to residents of county-owned long-term care homes.

If you would like to send a letter to a resident at Bay Haven, you can address it to: Golden Oldies Post Card Club, Bay Haven, 499 Hume Street, Collingwood, Ontario, L9Y 4H8.

Two weeks ago, the County of Simcoe’s long-term care and seniors services launched a new program called Letters to Seniors, a pen-pal program to encourage school-aged children to write to residents of county-owned long-term care homes.

Lynn Arsenault, 76, is a resident at Trillium Manor in Orillia and she received a letter this week.

“They wrote that they wanted us to know they were thinking about us and they wanted to send us a smile,” said Arsenault, noting the letter was accompanied by a photo of the children.

She says the letter brightened her day.

“I felt wonderful, because I love children. I have seven,” said Arsenault. “I feel like a kid in a candy shop!”

The letters are sterilized before they are distributed to residents, and in some cases residents will write back to their young pen pals.

To take part, children are asked to write a letter introducing themselves to a resident. Support services staff will review and connect the student with a match at the home.

If you would like to participate in the county’s program with your kids,send your letters to one of the following addresses, Attn: Pen Pal Program.

  • Georgian Manor (101 Thompsons Road, Penetanguishene, Ont., L9M 0V3)

  • Simcoe Manor (​​​​5988 Main Street East, Beeton, Ont., L0G 1A0)

  • Sunset Manor (49 Raglan Street, Collingwood, Ont., L9Y 4X1)

  • Trillium Manor (12 Grace Avenue, Orillia, Ont., L3V 2K2)

For more information on the program, click here.

- With files from Jessica Owen