While the coronavirus pandemic has created challenges for all of us, seniors are among the most affected. Due to increased health risks, individuals 65 and over have been asked to isolate themselves in an attempt to keep safe from the virus. Unfortunately, the result is a sort of catch 22. Physical wellbeing is a priority of course, but what happens when mental health takes a hit due to lack of human connection?
Luckily, several organizations have taken these matters into their own hands, finding their own unique ways to spread kindness despite circumstances. The Compassionate Neighbourhood Health Partners Society is one of these organizations, creating a program that facilitates social interaction for seniors suffering from loneliness as a result of the pandemic. The program pairs seniors with volunteers based on shared interests. These pairs then connect weekly for scheduled phone or video calls.
It was in this program, that 17-year-old Jaelyn Bjornerud-Brown met 99-year-old Myrtle McDonald, sparking a friendship that would bring light to many difficult days.
With Myrtle’s family living all over the US and her usual in-person programs being canceled due to COVID-19, Jaelyn’s companionship couldn’t have come at a better time. “I just found her more interested and less in a hurry than I expected. It has filled an empty spot,” Myrtle explained in an interview with CBC.
According to Jaelyn, the feeling is mutual. Paired on their shared interest in nursing, Jaelyn has been given the special opportunity to learn from a woman who spent years working in the field. Jaelyn explained to CBC, “I miss out on a lot of those experiences so getting to talk to someone who has 99, almost 100, years of experience, it’s been wonderful.”
MacDonald’s stories of traveling to teach and help those in need have inspired Jaelyn who also dreams of becoming a nurse. “In high school they kind of say you go to school, you get a job, you have kids. It’s a linear thing [but] talking to her has made me realize I don’t have to limit myself to one thing. I can have it all,” she said.
What started as a way to spread kindness while accounting for volunteer hours necessary to graduate high school has turned into a friendship that will likely outlive the confines of the CNHP Society’s program. In fact, the pair enjoy each other’s company so much so that their 30-minute sessions repeatedly run well over schedule.
“I love and look forward to getting to talk to her every week. [We talk] about an hour and 15 minutes, the time just goes by so quickly,” Jaelyn told CBC.
Jaelyn and Myrtle’s new friendship isn’t the only success story that has resulted from the CNHP Society’s program. The organization’s Connie Stam told CBC, “We have a 94-year-old man connected with a 16-year-old and he is writing his memoir for him. The 16-year-old says it’s just amazing all the stories.” According to CBC, “Another woman in her mid-70s is learning Microsoft Excel from a Grad 11 student.”
While the program is only set to run through March, Connie expects many participants to maintain their weekly chats once its over. Among the pairs planning to stay in touch are Jaelyn and Myrtle, keeping their adorable new friendship alive beyond the pandemic!
COVID-19 hasn’t been easy, but the kindness that has surfaced in response to the many challenges we’ve faced has been nothing short of inspiring. We are so grateful for organizations like Compassionate Neighbourhood Health Partners Society that have been navigating these times with human kindness and support at the forefront of their efforts. And for the sweet volunteers like Jaelyn that keep these programs running! Thank you for all you do!