The easing of visitor restrictions has allowed a group of West Australian aged care residents to have morning tea in person with their COVID-19 pen pals.

Baptistcare Yallambee aged care residents in Mundaring near Perth have been writing to Year 12 students from Eastern Hills Senior High School since April this year after visitor restrictions hindered their plans.

The students had been  planning to visit one-on-one with residents at the home every week and  host residents at their school for an end-of-term lunch.

Instead  14 residents and 14 students exchanged about five letters each from April to September.

Six months after exchanging the first letters ,residents  met their pen pals over morning tea with brownies and biscuits prepared by the students.

Baptistcare lifestyle coordinator Leanne Ruggiero said the residents were delighted to meet their pen pals.

 “It was also beautiful and quite emotional. Some of the students and residents felt like crying. One of the girls told her teacher she now wants to work in aged care, caring for seniors in her community,” Ms Ruggiero told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Leanne Ruggiero with a Baptistcare Yallambee resident

Ms  Ruggiero said the pen pal program only came about after the COVID-19 lockdown  forced them to rethink their plans.

“As residents could not meet the students who were supposed to visit them at our facility, I thought writing letters would be a nice way to keep them connected and stay in touch,” Ms Ruggiero said.

It has been wonderful to see both generations so interested in each other’s lives, she said.

“[The letters] definitely impacted [residents] in a positive way, particularly making our residents feel like they belong to a caring community,” Ms Ruggiero said. “Through the unnerving times of lockdown due to COVID-19 the students’ letters helped us stay connected.”

East Hills Senior High School home economics teacher Debra Hawthorne said the idea for the pen pals was popular among the students, with more than 100 letters exchanged.

“In those first letters the girls introduced themselves, including a photo and writing about their interests, hobbies and future endeavours,” said Ms Hawthorne.

“The girls have thoroughly enjoyed hearing the residents’ stories, about where they’re from and their families.”

She said the students have used the letters as a way to check-in on the residents during COVID.

“The girls have gained a better understanding of not just aged care, but also of our older Australians and how they cope in a crisis,” said Ms Hawthorne.

The students plan to continue to visit the residents in the future and Baptistcare Yallambee is planning to organise a similar program next year, Ms Ruggiero said.

Main image: An Eastern Hills Senior High School student and Baptistcare Yallambee resident Stella Coxon.

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