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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Young kids and elders lift each others’ spirits through magical Notes to Nursing Homes pen pal program

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It has been a lonely 18 months for both the youngest and oldest members of our society, as both schools and aged care homes suffered some of the most isolating and long-lasting lockdown measures.

But a little creativity and a lot of goodwill have gone a long way in keeping morale high in both demographics.

Rebecca Eastgate, a teacher at Woy Woy South Public School on the Central Coast of New South Wales, started a program called ‘Notes to Nursing Homes’ in August, partnering with nearby residential aged care facility (RACF) HammondCare Woy Woy.

The pen pal system has allowed students to swap pictures, stories and jokes with the home’s residents during some of the most strict of lockdown conditions.  

So far the school has submitted around 90 letters to the residential facility, including pictures created by the school’s kindergarten cohort.

I thought it would really align well with the relationship aspect [of the curriculum], trying to connect our kids with elder community members that would really love some kindness in their life, because I know how lonely they are, and how lost they sometimes feel with not been connected to their own families, let alone [wider] communities.

Woy Woy South Public School teacher, Rebecca Eastgate

Eastgate tells Aged Care News that the initiative has provided an invaluable lesson in empathy for her young students, as well as a heartfelt reminder to elders in care that they are still loved and valued members of the community.

“I know with my grandma – I couldn’t see her… , and I thought it would really align well with the relationship aspect [of the curriculum], trying to connect our kids with elder community members that would really love some kindness in their life, because I know how lonely they are, and how lost they sometimes feel with not been connected to their own families, let alone [wider] communities.”

She says that the response from residents has been overwhelmingly positive.

“When I’ve taken it down there, some of the residents have cried.

“One of the ladies – I had to read it to her four times, and every time I read it to her, it was a happiness moment.”

“It was just so special.”

Michael Cooney, general manager of residential care at HammondCare, tells Aged Care News that the letters and pictures, which were garnished with Freddo Frogs, absolutely delighted residents.

“They were a wonderful encouragement at a time when the residents, who all live with dementia, were in lockdown due to COVID-19 restrictions and visits were only permitted for essential care.”

He says the thoughtful program perfectly aligned with his company’s desire to involve residents with the wider community.

“… this initiative provided residents that opportunity to do this in a way that is very familiar to most of us.”

They were a wonderful encouragement at a time when the residents, who all live with dementia, were in lockdown due to COVID-19 restrictions and visits were only permitted for essential care.

General manager of residential care at HammondCare, Michael Cooney

“HammondCare would like to thank Rebecca and the students for taking the time to reach out to the residents at Woy Woy.”

Cooney notes that letter and picture sharing has been a popular means of communication across multiple HammondCare homes during lockdown.

“Many of our residential care services have enjoyed thoughtful letters and artwork from nearby schools and pre-schools during the COVID-19 period – all are appreciated.”

“In another recent example, the residents at HammondCare Miranda received paintings and drawings with a Remembrance Day theme from students a primary school at Miranda.

“The residents were asked to judge the best.”

The new year, which hopefully will bring an easing of restrictions, should provide the opportunity for RACF residents and student to consolidate their newfound friendships.

“We look forward to restrictions being eased so regular face-to-face visits with school students can resume in the months ahead,” Cooney says.

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