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News Local Pen Pal program offers the elderly connection despite COVID-19

Pen Pal program offers the elderly connection despite COVID-19

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For residents at nursing homes, COVID-19 has severely limited socialization and family contact. Though they were isolated for their own safety, as people 60 years and over are more likely to die from COVID exposure, these elderly patients have sorely missed human contact over the last year. A group of Southern Miss social work graduate students, with The Walking Joy Nursing Home Project, hope to change this.

The project seeks to enhance the lives of individuals living in low-income nursing homes heavily impacted by COVID-19. The goal is to bring joy and social connection into the lives of nursing home residents who may have otherwise lacked resources and social support during the pandemic.

“We believe this goal can be met with the help of generous donations from our community, friends and businesses,” Jerome Kolbo Ph.D, Director for the School of Social Work, said. “We recognize this virus has affected many lives, but we believe your assistance can make a huge difference to this population of older adults, who are one of the populations suffering most during this pandemic.”

Angela Mata, a masters of social work student, said the project started during Fall 2020, when it was at least slightly easier to get back onto campus. She said the project worked with a nursing home in Hattiesburg last semester and got 64 residents adopted by the community. Mata said one of the best parts of the project is its simplicity.

“It’s pretty much just matching a resident with an adoptee, they send [the adoptee] a care package and letters,” Mata said. “We had an awesome experience last semester and this semester we are working with a nursing home in Gulfport.”

Mata said the project got all 90 residents of the Gulfport nursing home adopted, and the pen pals are now in communication with each other. The success of Gulfport has encouraged the project to reach out to another nursing home in Hattiesburg. Mata is also hopeful that other community organizations will lend a helping hand with the program to further expand what they are capable of.

“We had a meeting with Boy Scouts, so that’s how we got the last few [Gulfport] residents adopted, cause we went to the meeting and families were so excited saying they wanted to get their kids involved,” Mata said. “It’s been a really good experience for us [overall].”

The interns for the project hope the project lasts beyond COVID-19 and goes on for years, as the project has been extremely beneficial for all those involved. For anyone interested in helping out the Walking Joy Nursing Home Project, the nursing home residents request these items the most in care packages:

  • Arts and crafts items
  • Word Find/puzzle books
  • Decorations for rooms
  • Toiletry/hygiene items
  • Individually-wrapped snacks

“We appreciate any support you may give, no matter how small, and your generous donation will be recognized on our School of Social Work Facebook page,” Kolbo said. “If you have any questions, please contact faculty advisor Karen Aderer at 228-671-9557.”

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