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Jun. 5, 2020 | Friday
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NOTL town worker connects pen pals with long-term care residents
Lynda, a resident at NLTC reads her letter received through the pen pal program. (Supplied)

Niagara-on-the-Lake residents in a long-term care facility are staying connected with the community through a new pen pal program. 

Tara Druzina usually works in planning and development for the Town of NOTL but when COVID-19 hit, her role shifted more to community outreach programs. She came up with the idea to start the letters for residents program. 

The pen pal initiative came about after an overwhelming number of community members were reaching out to the town about how they could help others. 

“We’ve got this whole big community assistance program going and people are very interested in helping where they can,” Druzina says.  

“I had a whole bunch of people ask me what they could do, and there’s only so many people we needed to deliver food. So, I had to invent something that people could participate in.”  

This inspired Druzina to connect members of the community in a new way, through the letter exchange program. 

“I came up with the idea and reached out (to those offering to help) and then I used my own personal Facebook account and sent it out that way,” Druzina says. 

“We thought it would be kind of easy to connect the people on the outside with the people living in assisted homes on the inside. So, we put it out there.”

So far, the letters have been shared with Niagara LTC Residence and Upper Canada Lodge in NOTL but Druzina hopes to share the program throughout Niagara Region. 

“We’re ready to reach out to the other regional homes with the program as well and see if they’re interested in participating,” she says.

Chris Poos, program manager of the Niagara LTC Residence, says he received an email from Druzina that mentioned how local residents had been writing letters in support of residents in long-term care and others in the community who are a little isolated right now. 

“They really want to focus in on the residents in long-term care as a priority,” Poos says. 

It began with more than 30 letters being written by NOTL residents to long-term care residents in town and sent by email to the residences.

Poos says the “wonderful letters of support just telling (residents) a little about themselves and how they are thinking of them during this hard time is really encouraging.” 

People taking time out of their day to write a letter for those who really need it is a great way to show support in the community, he says.  

He hopes the program won’t be a one-time letter, “that this will establish a routine, a connection between those in our community and our residents.”

The recreation team at Niagara LTC is taking time to sit down with residents to read the letters and put together responses. 

“There is no possibility of anything (like COVID-19) being transmitted accidentally by letter. This will be a completely safe and a great way of connecting because social isolation can be very difficult for our seniors, especially those that normally would be getting regular visits from their families, from friends.” 

Exchanging the letters is “really easy because I get the replies back from the residents and I just send it off to the originating emailer, and they get it, and then they write back,” Druzina says.  

Poos says this time is especially difficult for residents so the staff is supporting them by “doing lots of FaceTime and Skype, which is great, but will never replace true human connection. Every little bit helps during this difficult time.” 

“Any little impact that can bring a smile to a senior or anybody in our community who is struggling during this time to keep a sense of normality can be uplifting and important,” Poos says. 

The letters have left the residents at Niagara LTC feeling cared about by the community, he says.  

He thinks it’s great that people are doing this without ever having met the recipient. “This is just an individual that’s taking time out of their day, to reach out to someone that they have no true connection with,” 

That sense of care and purpose are important to the facility’s residents.  

“As we’re reading these letters, you’re seeing that twinkle in their eye, you’re seeing the smile grow, the sharing of stories,” Poos says.

“The largest untapped resource that we have is our seniors, their stories and their experiences and to share that with the greater community is important.” 

Anyone who wishes to take part can contact Tara Druzina at tara.druzina@notl.com

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