We are all faced with the need for social distancing for safety during the current pandemic. But that hasn’t deterred KON’s Kappa Alpha Tau chapter at Bradley University in their Department of Family & Consumer Sciences. For their program activity for the year, they conducted an “Adopt a Grandparent” activity where students were able to write to nursing home residents during the pandemic when residents needed social interaction.

Megan Vallas, President of Kappa Alpha Tau at the time, organized the project. She said “we were going to do the national initiative right after spring break. We talked about fundraising, but the options we had looked at before wouldn’t work because of social distancing. It would even be too hard to do a food drive because our students aren’t on campus. We didn’t know what to do. Then our chapter adviser Rachel Vollmer saw an article about people being pen pals with nursing home residents. Many of these residents are coping with loneliness as they’re unable to have visitors. She thought it was a good idea, so she shared it with me. I liked it too. We brought it to the executive board during our next Zoom meeting, and decided it was something we wanted to do with local Peoria nursing homes.”

But they didn’t just pick up their pens and start writing. First, Megan picked up her phone to find a local nursing home that was willing. Calling the first few they actually struck out. Nursing homes are a bit overwhelmed right now and it wasn’t that easy to find the activities director. But after they reached out to three or four they found one who was agreeable and supported their outreach efforts.

Then came the next hurdle. Kappa Alpha Tau suggested improving on the letter concept by calling, but the nursing home pointed out that many of their residents are hard of hearing. They liked the option of letters, which would also mean a resident could have something tangible. Residents could also go back and read the letter again if they wanted.

They agreed on letter writing, and the nursing home activities director first asked residents if they were interested. Seven residents at the facility said they would like a pen pal. But the activities director changed course, deciding that some residents might change their minds. They said to send as many letters as the KON members wanted: the activities director would distribute them. Because students are at home, they were to mail their letters directly to the nursing home. This made more sense for cost and speed than mailing them to another KON member to bundle the letters and mail them together.

In the end, 10-15 KON members participated and sent letters to the address at the nursing home. Some KON participants sent more than one letter – to correspond with more than one resident.

The hope was for ongoing correspondence. Megan notes that she didn’t personally get any letters back, but she knows someone else did. This KON member responded again, perhaps being the start of a true pen-pal friendship. Regardless of how many other residents responded, it is clear that KON’s Kappa Alpha Tau put a smile on the faces of some local nursing home residents. Well done Kappa Alpha Tau! We are proud of your community outreach and applaud your mindset of innovation as an outstanding display of leadership.

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