Every month, Jean Yarsawich writes several dozen postcards with words of encouragement to nursing home residents she doesn’t know.
She volunteers with AARP Georgia’s postcard outreach program to connect with people in nursing facilities who are isolated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I do wonder who gets the postcards,” said Yarsawich, 70, of Augusta. “I hope that they enjoy them.”
She was delighted to learn that one recipient of her efforts, George Bowman, loves the messages and hopes that they continue to come. “They put a smile on my face and keep me going,” said Bowman, 64, a resident of The Place at Deans Bridge Nursing and Rehab Center in Augusta.
AARP Georgia started the postcard outreach program to raise the spirits of nursing home residents who have struggled during the pandemic, said Hillary Johnson, outreach and volunteer engagement manager for AARP Georgia.
“People in nursing homes are really hurting emotionally— many can’t even see their families,” Johnson said. “We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to brighten their day, to add some happiness and cheer?’ ”
Nationally, residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities make up more than a third of COVID-19 deaths.
Many nursing homes have curtailed group activities and visitors. The measures, taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus, have led to extreme loneliness, anxiety and depression for countless residents.
Connecting through cards
AARP Georgia launched the postcard program last year on Sept. 11, the National Day of Service, partnering with three nursing homes: Sadie G. Mays Health & Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta, PruittHealth in Macon and The Place at Deans Bridge.
Every month 20 volunteers write personal notes on the backs of preprinted greeting cards they receive from AARP Georgia. The nursing homes distribute 800 postcards monthly.
Yarsawich writes between 25 and 30 of them each month. The process is time-consuming, largely because she draws an image of Rusty, her beloved chiweenie (Chihuahua and dachshund mix), on each note.
“I thought that was a fun way to make the messages lighthearted,” Yarsawich said. “I chip away at the postcards all month. It feels good in my heart when I’ve finished them.”
The postcard program not only delights residents but also offers volunteers who have been sidelined because of the pandemic an opportunity to stay involved.
“Ordinarily, we would be out in the community,” said Romell Cooks, 76, an AARP volunteer from Appling. “I am a born helper. The postcard program has satisfied part of my need to be reaching out to people.”
Bowman said he is thankful that volunteers are finding a way to connect with him and other long-term care residents.
Since the pandemic, his nursing home has worked hard to keep residents engaged, he said, but it’s been difficult because most spend their days in their rooms. Visitors are not allowed when there are outbreaks in the facility. That’s why Bowman loves getting postcards from the outside world.
“It is encouraging that there are people out there who care,” he said. “I would like to thank all the volunteers for thinking of us.”
Ann Hardie is a writer living in Atlanta.
For More Information on Social Isolation
- Pandemic Has Created a Loneliness Epidemic
- Health Effects of Social Isolation