BELLA VISTA, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A local penpal initiative is giving hope to nursing home seniors, by connecting them with the community. It’s also letting seniors know they aren’t forgotten during these trying times.
Senior residents have not been able to visit with their loved ones like they normally would, due to the current health crisis, so locals here in NWA are stepping in and showing them some much-needed love.
The community initiative is called NWA Adopt A Resident.
Niki Kihm said she was inspired to do something after reading a study about how some seniors living in long term care facilities or nursing homes were becoming depressed because visitations were reduced or canceled altogether.
Kihm said it hit her pretty hard and she had to do something to help and decided on a pen-pal style program where families would be paired up with residents and send them letters or care packages.
“I have encouraged families to tell residents about themselves, bring them out of their rooms, or where they are at, let them know what you are doing, just to help shift their focus outside the 4 walls that they have been in,” said Kihm.
Lisa Wolfe is the Marketing Director for the Concordia Senior Retirement Community. She said she knows how tough it has been for some residents especially for those who don’t have family members who live nearby.
Wolfe said the facility which includes independent and assisted living residents has been lucky to not have had any outbreaks. She credits restricting visitation very early on during the health crisis.
Wolfe said initiatives like Adopt a Resident help seniors stay positive, engaged and connected with the community.
“It has its hard moments but we try to support one another,” said Debbie Tasnady a senior resident.
“It makes me feel good because I don’t get letters every day. It’s something to look forward to,” said Phyllis Knothe.
“It’s just like Christmas for them to receive something in the mail like that and so when they open it up they smile and giggle and it’s a great thing for them,” said Wolfe.
Over two dozen residents have been matched at Concordia.
“You’re constantly uplifted by the glorious people who live here and are happy people,” said Joe Rieger a senior resident.
Wolfe said visitation is also now open at the facility. Loved ones can schedule 30 minutes appointments. All visitors must socially distance, go through a health screening and wear face coverings.
Kihm said she has been overwhelmed by the level of response, from the community wanting to help.
“I’ve had some facility directors tear up on the phone like I said it’s been a forgotten population, so the fact that our community is wanting to support them in this way, they have gotten emotional. They are just so thankful and full of gratitude,” said Kihm.
She has matched over 275 senior residents with families. Kihm also recently paired a facility with an elementary school.
Kihm said she hopes to continue to grow the program, and match as many senior residents with community members as possible.