Tenn. assisted living facility connects community with residents through pen pal program

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WTVC/CNN) – The staff at an assisted living facility in Tennessee has come up with an idea to keep their residents connected with others while they shelter in place during the pandemic.

For many residents at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, the strict stay-at-home orders have caused loneliness while their families are barred from visiting them.

The faculty at Brookdale Hixon decided to try and combat that disconnect with a pen pal program. And with a grand response from the community, it seems like the program is working.

“I was expecting our residents to get about four to five letters,” Erin Edens, the program’s leader, said. Instead, the assisted living facility received about 400 to 500 letters in just two weeks.

“I look forward to hearing a knock on my door with a handful of mail every day,” Gordon Temple said.

The 85-year-old resident said it’s been hard to enjoy the things he loves, such has woodworking, while he’s been separated from his family.

Temple said he now cherishes reading the heartfelt words from perfect strangers.

“When he got through, he said, ‘I love you, Gordon,’” Temple said. “That really touched me.”

It’s hard to describe the joy seen on the residents’ faces as the letters pour in day after day, the facility’s executive director, Angela Hampton, says.

“People are still trying to be integrated into the community even though they’re social distancing,” she said. “They’ve shown our residents love, care, and concern during this time.”

Many other nursing homes and assisted living facilities are offering pen pal programs like Brookdale Hixon during this time.

They also are reminding everyone that their residents will like visitors too, when all this is over.

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