Pen Pals wins hearts and minds

An initiative to connect some of Calvary’s Newcastle aged care residents to pen pals at a local primary school during the Covid-19 lockdown won hearts and minds when it featured on The Sunday Project television program.

The targeted letter writing program prompted the residents, many of whom have dementia, to reminisce and re-engage their fine motor skills. It also helped give them a sense of purpose.

Residents from Calvary Nazareth Retirement Community at Belmont and Calvary St Joseph’s Retirement Community at Sandgate participated in the Pen Pals program, which was run by the University of Newcastle’s Department of Occupational Therapy.

The initiative involved kindergarten pupils from Edgeworth Heights Public School writing letters and creating craft items for their new pen pals. The residents wrote back, sharing their own memories of growing up and of school.

The intergenerational program aimed to help ease the effects of social isolation during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

Clinical Nurse Consultant with Calvary Retirement Communities Colin McDonnell helped to establish the program in a collaboration with the University and Lecturer Dr Kylie Wales.

“During Covid, this was a godsend,” said Colin.

Different week’s letters covered specific questions and topics, which prompted memories and conversations for the residents.

“For the residents, it made them think back to what it was like when they were younger,” Colin said.

“There was lots of reminiscing and it gave them purpose. They got to reconnect with children, and it made them feel like they were doing something purposeful and that had meaning.

“They also got to use fine motor skills, which they don’t get to use much anymore, through writing and drawing and doing craft.

“They have the letters and photos up and displayed in their homes, and they’re still talking about it.”

You can watch The Project’s story here.