Vernon Secondary School senior Alex Murphy (far right) set up a pen pal project with residents at Chartwell Carrington Place as a way of connecting her fellow students with seniors amid the pandemic. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Vernon Secondary School senior Alex Murphy (far right) set up a pen pal project with residents at Chartwell Carrington Place as a way of connecting her fellow students with seniors amid the pandemic. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Vernon students connect with seniors the old-fashioned way

Grade 12 student Alex Murphy set up a pen pal project as a way to break through COVID-19 isolation

A Vernon high school student got top marks from residents at a local seniors retirement home, after her pen pal project help bridged the gap between the old and the young amid times of isolation.

Alex Murphy had a school project to complete in her senior year at Vernon Secondary School (VSS), and with the pandemic driving a wedge between peers and generations alike, she connected with Chartwell Carrington Place to set up a pen pal arrangement with students at her school.

“I thought, with all the coronavirus stuff that’s going on right now, maybe I could do something for the community,” Murphy said. “Something to connect students to senior citizens.”

Chartwell residents received letters Wednesday (April 14) afternoon.

Darlene Croft, lifestyle and program manager at Chartwell, said the project was a hit among residents, who have fewer opportunities these days to see how the young ones are doing.

“They’re sharing what grade they’re in, how many siblings they have, what their hobbies are… and for the residents, they feel like they get to share and give back as well,” Croft said.

The project had the added bonus of teaching students how to write letters, “which is not something they do anymore,” Croft added. “So that’s been pretty successful, pretty powerful.”

As the residents gathered outside to receive letters, Croft praised Murphy’s commitment to seeing the project through from start to finish.

“What a great initiative for you to come up with this idea and carry it through,” she said.

The first batch of the students’ letters were written generally, and residents could choose one to respond to. Resident Shirley Smith and her husband Ron selected a letter from Zion White, whose name alone conjured pleasant memories of their travelling days.

“We used to be snowbirds and always drove through the Zion national park in Utah,” she explained. “I told her when I saw your name, it brought back such memories … it was just wonderful.”

Other letters contained insights into the effects of the pandemic beyond Chartwell’s walls; another resident corresponded with a Chinese exchange student at VSS who, because of travel restrictions, is stuck far away from home, living with his grandparents in Vernon.

“He came over two years ago to go to school, and he can’t get home now because he can’t fly home.”

Murphy — who will be relaying letters between the school and the retirement home for the next while — said she was pleased to discover the eagerness among her peers to take part in the project.

“And it was really nice to go through and read some of the letters,” she said. “They’re really sweet.”

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Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
Email me at Brendan.Shykora@vernonmorningstar.com
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Seniors