Building a “Bridge of Hope:” Campaigns emerge to send words of encouragement to seniors

— Created April 1, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Whidbey Island residents of all ages are being asked to send a little kindness to some of our most vulnerable.

Even before Gov. Jay Inslee issued his official “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order last week, nursing homes and assisted living facilities had already put strict limits in place regarding visitors. Social distancing within these facilities mean residents must keep to themselves, limiting the amount of interaction with other residents, while eliminating physical interaction with family and friends.

But several people have stepped up to change things by encouraging people to send cards, notes, pictures and letters to senior care facilities and assisted living centers on Whidbey Island to help brighten residents’ days.

“I know they miss not only being able to interact with people from outside, but also with people within the home,” said Melissa Morales, whose 93-year-old grandmother, Jeanne, lives at Summer Hill Senior Living in Oak Harbor. “They know the purpose and why it’s being done, but it takes that social interaction out of their days.”

Morales, a manager at Starbucks in Oak Harbor, started a “Letters of Kindness” campaign at her store next to Safeway long before anyone knew about Coronavirus. People were encouraged to leave a note sharing a kind word or thought, and those in need of some cheer were encouraged to take a card from the box.

“One kind word can change an entire day; we could literally see people’s faces light up, we could tell how much people appreciated it, how nice it was for them to have that encouraging boost,” she said.

When COVID-19 stopped visiting hours for her grandmother, Morales shifted the focus of the program to those in senior living facilities, and has taken it with her to the drive through at Starbucks at Harbor Station. Anyone interested can request a card at the drive through window, take it home, write an encouraging note and bring it back to the drive through on their next trip. The notes will be collected and delivered to Summer Hill residents.

Even though many residents in senior living situations have been able to connect with family and friends through technology, a thoughtful note or colorful drawing would be enthusiastically received.

“Residents would enjoy receiving cards, a note of kindness, or children’s coloring projects from our community members,” said Leslie Burns, executive director of Summer Hill. “The letter-writing campaign started by [Melissa Morales] is one example of how the Oak Harbor community is coming together to support each other during these uncertain times.”

“Should anyone want to send the residents more cards, we will gladly receive them,” said Terisita Mendiola, with Regency on Whidbey in Oak Harbor. “Our residents are always happy to receive letters, cards and notes.”

For those who want to add some color – literally – to their message, there is another campaign underway on Whidbey.

Sylvia Engle Arnold and Robyn Myers have joined forces to send out good thoughts, creating a specially designed Whidbey Island coloring page that can be downloaded, colored and sent to people at nursing and senior facilities all over the island. The idea came in the wake of the situation at Careage of Whidbey in Coupeville, where 44 residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19. Island County Public Health announced Monday afternoon two of those afflicted had died.

“We have all been really sad for the people in Careage, both patients and workers,” said Arnold, who designed the coloring sheet. “When you think about being all alone, with the fear of this COVID virus, something has to be done to bring hope and love to these dark places.

“So Robyn and I collaborated and came up with this idea to allow people on the outside – young and old – to color something beautiful to share for people on the inside,” she continued. “It’s a bridge of hope, something to connect us and not allow people to feel alone or discouraged.”

“I simply felt my heart hurting and wanted to encourage others,” Myers said. “I think about those that are in pain, fearful and lonely at Careage and wanted to get everyone some personal art or special note to encourage them. Wouldn’t it be great if anyone hurting at this time had a note of encouragement that they are loved and not forgotten?”

The pdf of the “Love from Whidbey” coloring sheet can be found on Whidbey Weekly’s Facebook page. Everyone is welcome to download a copy to color and share by sending it to one of the addresses provided with this story.

“What we hope is that people will share it with one another and use it over and over again,” Arnold said. “Make it a blessing! Get your kids involved!”

This may not be the only design from Arnold, either.

“I’d be happy to make more,” she said. “It gives me personal joy to share this simple talent. I think it would be nice to share with all the essential people on the front lines of this COVID War.”

“Get out your color crayons or create your own,” encouraged Myers. “I made a card with a photo I took of Deception Pass that says ‘someone loves you!’ I am not the beautiful artist Sylvia is, but I can print out something and use glue!”

Share some kindness!

Mail your cards, notes, children’s artwork and words of encouragement to Whidbey Island senior care facilities:

Careage of Whidbey
311 NE 3rd Street,
Coupeville, WA 98239-3427

Harbor Tower Village
100 E Whidbey Ave
Oak Harbor, WA 98277

Maple Ridge Retirement & Assisted Living
1767 Alliance Avenue
Freeland, WA 98249

Regency on Whidbey
1040 SW Kimball Drive
Oak Harbor WA 98277

Summer Hill Retirement & Assisted Living
Attn: Director of Life Enrichment.
165 SW 6th Avenue
Oak Harbor, WA 98277

Welcome Home Oak Harbor Senior Memory Care
235 SW 6th Ave
Oak Harbor, WA 98277