A year spent isolated from each-other has underscored what really is essential in our communities.
And one of the essential aspects of community is keeping our young people and our seniors and elders connected.
But how we do that while keeping each-other safe during the pandemic has required some imagination, some organization, and a lot of volunteerism.
Volunteer Campbell River has been doing a great job keeping youth and seniors connected with its Brighter Day Project. With the support of United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island and the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund, project organizers and volunteers have created a variety of events and ongoing programming that have filled that gap in seniors’ and youths’ sense of community.
Brighter Day activities have included a senior’s home book drive, a Chalk-A-Thon that had youth create chalk art on the sidewalk for seniors to enjoy and encourage them to get outside and stay active, tapping into the Cyber-Seniors program that has youth volunteers provide computer and tech learning opportunities to seniors, sending Valentine’s Day and Christmas cards, and the Brighter Buddies pen-pal program.
These connections have created cross-cultural connections, inspired youth and seniors to reach out to their own families using newly-learned skills like video-calling and letter-writing, as well as created some vital friendships, says youth engagement coordinator Shelby Ordano.
One youth writer in the pen-pal program is helping a senior to finish a biography of her life, says Ordano. It’s something the senior has struggled to do, Ordano explains, as the senior experiences dementia.
“And so a youth is able to help her share the stories [of her life] before they are lost,” says Tiesha Schmuland, manager of youth programs at Volunteer Campbell River.
In another letter sent through the pen-pal program, a senior mentioned that her husband had passed away, says Shelby. In their response back, the youth explained that they would love to hear more about the senior’s husband, if she wanted to talk about them.
“That was one of the things that was really moving to us,” says Shelby. “It’s so nice to hear that they want to hear the struggles … and be a shoulder to lean on for someone who doesn’t have such a big circle right now.”
“[These programs] seem to make something awaken in our youth that we get to see,” says Tiesha. “This opportunity for them to have this compassion and to express it.”
And though a lot of emphasis can be put on what youths can help seniors to learn and accomplish, that connection is essential for youths as well.
That same youth who wanted to hear more about the senior’s husband had also recently lost their grandparents, explains Jada Owens, another youth engagement coordinator with Volunteer Campbell River. So making that connection with a senior was very important to them as well, says Jada.
Participation in the Brighter Days Project has created a kind of positive feedback-loop for all those involved, be they youth or senior.
“I think that the youth think they are helping the seniors, and the seniors think they are helping the youth,” says Tiesha.
Either way, being able to help someone else is an important way of taking care of our own mental health, and feeling like we are responding to a difficult time in a helpful, positive way.
But, while times of difficulty can do a lot to inspire people to act, the isolation of seniors and the divide between them and our youth was a problem even before the pandemic.
The Brighter Days Project was in fact created to respond to that existing issue before the pandemic changed everything. But some things will be true before, during and after the pandemic. And one of those things is the essential connection between youths and their seniors and elders.