In the midst of social distancing and coronavirus, Hillcrest Health Services found a way for its residents to interact with others.
Two weeks ago, Hillcrest Health Services launched the Pen Pal Program since residents cannot have visitors due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The program invites the public to email letters and photos to residents to help spread light during a dark time.
Those interested in submitting a positive message or looking to gain a pen pal can send submissions to email@example.com. Residents who receive submissions can choose to write back.
From letters and inspirational quotes to pictures of pets and vacations, people can submit anything they want.
Some have even sent random facts, trivia questions, jokes and color pages, said Liz Stratman, director of communication for Hillcrest Health Services.
After the letters are sent, staff distributes them among residents in the Sarpy and Douglas county facilities.
Writers can request via the subject line in the email to have their message distributed to all residents, a specific resident or request to correspond with residents who have similar interests.
Stratman said residents have responded well to the emails.
“They love receiving photos and drawing, visual things they can look at. That seems to be really positive and uplifting to them,” Stratman said.
While people are welcome to write what they please, Stratman said Hillcrest asks that letters do not mention COVID-19.
“We are trying to keep everyone very positive and lifted during this hard time because it’s what everyone's talking about this time,” she said. “The intent is to keep spirits lifted, not dwell on the current situation.”
Every day, Stratman said, the Hillcrest inbox is full of submissions.
“It’s been really incredible to see the community pull together for our aging adults,” she said. “That short note could be the thing that brings a smile to a resident’s face.”
And while it is good for the residents to engage with others, it is also beneficial for those sending the letters.
“It’s not just our seniors who are experiencing the lack of social interaction. Everyone is feeling isolated,” she said.
“It’s actually been really rewarding for the community. They, too, are lacking social interaction. We are all trying to adjust to this new normal and it’s not easy for anyone.”
Stratman said since the program began, people have shown interest in meeting their pen pal after visitation restrictions are lifted.
“We really hope that this forms some long-lasting relationships,” she said.