Lambert starts MNRC pen pal program

Sally Herman, a resident at MNRC, recently received a letter and photos from her pen pal, Greta Cooper. Due to the no-visitor restrictions at MNRC because of COVID-19, Rileigh Lambert came up with the idea to start a pen pal program. (Photo submitted)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Several young people in the Monticello community are making use of their time at home doing something old-fashioned… writing letters.

     Rileigh Lambert, a Monticello graduate and college student at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, came up with the idea of recruiting kids in Monticello to write letters and send cards to residents at Monticello Nursing and Rehab and Pennington Square Assisted Living. COVID-19 has restricted visitors from seeing their loved ones at nursing homes all over Iowa. Lambert thought they would enjoy receiving mail and hearing from kids in the community.

     Lambert is involved in a pen pal program at St. Ambrose, writing letters to fourth graders. A friend of hers shared a Facebook post asking young people in her community to write to those in the nursing home. So Lambert took that same idea and ran with it herself.

     “I got about 25 people who were interested in having a pen pal, which I was very excited about!” said Lambert. “I thought it would be a perfect way to keep people connected in a way that was safe with everything going on right now.”

     Lambert sought volunteers in mid-March when Gov. Kim Reynolds issued the coronavirus restrictions across the state. She contacted Leann Herman who works with Admissions at MNRC, and they started pairing up young people with the residents. They were initially able to match 10 residents with a pen pal.

     “I was really glad that I was able to make those connections inside Pennington Square and MNRC because I knew those residents weren’t allowed to have visitors,” shared Lambert. “So I was hoping this would bring them some joy throughout their day.”

     “The pen pal program helps seniors stay connected to their community, fight boredom, have that communication/letter to look forward to, and build relationships,” shared Herman.

     She said the residents really enjoy corresponding with their respective pen pals and building a unique relationship. One resident, Aggie O’Connell, has a pen pal who’s in second grade and was celebrating a birthday recently. O’Connell sent the child a birthday card and some stickers as a gift.

     “The students have done a great job in second pictures of themselves, their family, pets, coloring pages, and jokes,” said Herman of the variety of communication that is sent to the residents.

     She sees the pen pal program benefitting the kids in the same ways, giving them something to look forward to now that they’re staying home from school.

     “They’re building relationships, putting their thoughts on paper, improving their handwriting, and connecting to their community,” she continued. She hopes this activity helps to break the negative stereotypes about senior citizens living in nursing homes.

     “Senior citizens have amazing, interesting stories to tell,” Herman said. “They have seen so much in their lifetimes, and this is a great way to share these life stories.”

     Lambert said once she contacted Herman, both were excited to see the pen pal program happen and become a success. She praised Herman for helping to pair the seniors with the kids.

     “I think it’s neat for the kids and seniors to all learn about each other and how different their lives probably are,” said Lambert. “I hope they (the seniors) feel special and know that there are many community members thinking about them in this time of social distancing and quarantining.” She said it’s important for people to stay connected, even if it’s not someone they’ve ever met, during tough hard like this.

     The pen pals range in age from 4 to 13 years old. While 10 were matched with MNRC/Pennington residents, the remaining are writing letters to college students and kids their own age from other states.

     “I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from many of the parents who have kids in the pen pal program,” said Lambert. “I hope those same feelings are reciprocated from the residents at MNRC.

     “I’m really happy how this turned out, and it was such a little amount of work for such a big reward.”


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