According to numbers from ValuePenguin.com, 36 percent of American seniors 75 and older have reported increased feelings of loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic – and even as the world begins to ease out of that predicament, the isolation can still remain among older adults.
To help reduce those feelings, Home Instead Senior Care in Hattiesburg is setting up 100 local seniors with a pen pal in honor of National Pen Pals Day, which was celebrated June 1. Through that program, which is part of the social purpose movement “Ready to Care,” members of the community can submit letters, photos, or video messages to create a meaningful connection with a senior.
“The Ready to Care movement … has been up since before the pandemic, and with the pen pal program, Home Instead is inviting everyone to do a little something for the betterment of our seniors and their lives,” said Anna Edenfield, who co-owns the Hattiesburg Home Instead location with her husband. “We have letters from all over the United States from kids from 13 (years old) to 21, and we printed off 100 letters and we’re distributing them to the assisted living facilities.
“They’re really sweet letters; some of them were just a paragraph, but a lot of them asked for advice about the senior’s life experience. What I found achingly true was that even someone as young as 13 years old has experienced loneliness with the pandemic, but also maybe with their lives – maybe they feel like they don’t fit in, and they were looking for the senior to write them back and start a connection.”
The pen pals program is a community event, and is made possible by support from local businesses, nonprofit organizations, retailers, numerous volunteers and members of the community.
Anyone wishing to participate can visit www.readytocare.com/penpals. Participants also can nominate a senior to receive a letter, or request a letter themselves, by contacting email@example.com.
Home Instead will handle vetting and delivery of the messages throughout this week.
“We’re going to be distributing them to Brookdale and The Claiborne, and I’ve already left about 50 letters over at Wesley Manor,” Edenfield said. “It’s emailing the teenager or the young adult back; it’s up to (the seniors) if they want to do that, but I’d say 90 percent of the letters wanted to hear something back from the senior.”
Edenfield recently interviewed a senior who is participating in the program who said she was thrilled to be able to communicate with other individuals. The senior has two children – one who lives in Ocean Springs and another who lives in Moselle – who she doesn’t get to see as often as she’d like.
“She said, ‘You kind of get these negative cycles of thoughts, and it’s kind of like you feel very alone, and I think a lot of the people at this facility feel the same way,’” Edenfield said. “They all kind of just sit in the apartment, so it’s thrilling to get something from a young person; it really makes her encouraged that they’re reaching out.
“Everything wants something personal – personal correspondence – and I think we all look for that.”
The Hattiesburg Home Instead Senior Care office is located at 800 South 28thAvenue, Suite 8. For more information on the pen pals program, call (601) 261-2114.
“I really think if everybody just did a tiny bit, just a paragraph to a senior, that might mean all the world to them,” Edenfield said. “I think we could take care of everybody, and decrease the loneliness that seniors feel, especially since during the pandemic.
“I think everybody’s felt a little bit of that, being isolated; it doesn’t mean we can’t feel connected to one another through one of these venues like pen pal writing. We’re all in this together – that’s the way I feel about it, and that’s the way Home Instead feels about it.”