Pastor Susan often asks us to pay attention to where and how God shows up in our lives. What a beautiful challenge, because it means we actually have to watch and be aware. Since mid-March, I have marvelled at what I’ve seen.
When Alberta shut down on March 16, I think we all went into COVID shock. For me, I started working from home. But how do you do that when your job is to take youth into long-term care centres to help them develop relationships with the residents? Students were studying from home, care centres were no longer allowing visitors, but I still had a job to do!!! How was I to do that???
Let me back track to tell you about my work. My name is Betty Good, I attend V@4, and I work for a non-profit organization called LINKages Society of Alberta. My job is to recruit junior and high school students and take them to care centres; I facilitate programs where 26 youth and 13 seniors meet together every week or two for eight months. I provide activities that help them to connect and develop meaningful relationships.
Mid-March, their visits stopped without warning. The students I work with had to stay home. The seniors became isolated, which is something that our programs actually work to address and prevent. I had been delegated to the inside of my condo. How in the world would I continue to do my job? Because I work with liaisons at schools and care centres, I didn’t have direct contact with either the students or residents. (I only had direct contact with one group of high school students who paid weekly visits to their senior friends after school on Fridays.)
As I was trying to think about how I could be a blessing to the residents in my programs at the care centres I also wondered how I could support the students who’d signed up to make friends with those same residents. By reaching out through the teachers, I encouraged the students to write cards or send emails to their senior friends. Another idea I had was to personally write a card to each of the residents in my programs. I was open to anything I could do to be a blessing to them as they were quarantined in their rooms. My co-worker and I prepared activity packages and sent them to the care centres and the staff were grateful for help and encouragement.
Cards were mailed directly, but emails went to the liaisons at the care centres, who printed them off and delivered them. Some of the liaisons had gone into quarantine themselves, or had been deployed, so the emails came to me and I mailed them.
Out of the chaos and confusion at the beginning of the pandemic, I started to notice something beautiful. Students started sending cards to their senior friends. High school students wrote cards and sent photos of themselves. Other students made arrangements to have FaceTime, Skype and Zoom visits, which had to be arranged with the care centre staff. One student wrote a poem! Another student, who was only a sub for when other students were absent, wrote multiple cards for a number of the seniors in her program. Two high school girls visited their senior friend through a window. They stayed for an hour. They continue to do that every few weeks.
There were sad times too. As we are all aware, many residents in the care centres passed away, and we needed to find ways to support the students who’d experienced loss. The collaboration among the care centre liaisons, the school liaisons, the principals, admin, counsellors, and parents was phenomenal. Each student who experienced the loss of a senior friend was well supported in the process.
I continued to be amazed at the compassion and efforts the youth were making to be an encouragement for the seniors. And then things got even better!
In one of the schools, two staff members organized the 26 students in their program to do something for senior friends. Most of them created videos for their senior friends to watch and listen to how they are missed. There were also cards and notes. Two boys even wrote a note to the family of their senior friend who had passed away recently. Reading the notes and watching the videos brought tears to my eyes; truly a blessing. The rec therapist at the care centre took time to show the videos and cards to each of the residents involved!
Just when our programs were winding down, it got even better! A parent from another program suggested that the students go and visit the residents in their program through the windows. After jumping through all the hoops to make that happen, 20 junior high students and their parents, wearing masks and carrying balloons and signs, gathered outside the courtyard to have a ‘distanced’ visit with their senior friends. The staff from the care centre made a huge effort to porter 12 residents outside so they could see the students they had gotten to know and were missing so much. What a blessing to watch!
In response to Susan as to where and how we notice God, if we keep our eyes open we will see that He is all around us. I see God’s goodness reflected in the notes, the FaceTime calls, the cards, the emails, the courtyard visits, the signs and gifts. I see God’s heart as it shows up in the hearts of the youth who are making a difference in the lives of their senior friends. They are demonstrating how thoughtful and kind they are. Their empathy and compassion is very evident. I am so very proud of all these young people as they go out of their way, above and beyond, and think about others more than themselves. God is using them in beautiful ways to bless the residents in 14 care centres around Calgary.
Initially I wondered how I would be able to do my job during this time of isolation and separation. It has worked out better than I could have imagined and I have had the pleasure of seeing how God could use students in Calgary in these programs to be a huge blessing to the lonely and vulnerable!
School/Care Centre Program Coordinator at LINKages