New Northern Ontario pen pal program aims to ensure no senior is forgotten
SUDBURY -- There are quite a few friendships being formed in Northern Ontario these days thanks to a new pen pal program, spearheaded by a Laurentian University student.
At the start of the pandemic, Lina Audet, 21, was looking for somewhere to volunteer and was worried seniors in the region were at risk about being forgotten about.
She formed Letters to Inspire Noticeable Change (LINC) and started matching young adult volunteers with seniors in the area with similar interests as penpals, and from there, it took off.
"At the beginning of the pandemic I was looking for gaps within our community and I noticed some of our seniors were feeling isolated and lonely because they have restrictions put on them and they're our most vulnerable population cause of COVID," said Audet.
"The goal is to help reach seniors, but also to establish a mutually beneficial relationship between seniors and adults," Audet said.
She reached out to Sudbury's Finlandia Village first to see if any seniors might be interested in taking part. That's how Louise Mokohonuk found out about it.
The Espanola native and mother of six lives at Finlandia Village and has a lot of energy. She does art and bingo, but these days, it's the letters from her pen pal she truly cherishes.
"I told her about my five sons working in a mill in Espanola and she said that was so interesting to know that about me," said Mokohonuk.
She and her pen pal, Ericha Hendel, have been writing back and forth for some time now, sharing stories and talking about their hobbies.
Both avid artists, Mokohonuk is hopeful they'll be able to meet one day when COVID restrictions are dropped.
"I think other people would like it, especially if they're loners," said Mokohonuk.
Hendel is a student at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine where extra time, sometimes, is a luxury. Her letters, though, have given her a necessary break and some fun in between hitting the books.
"A lot of people are still waiting to be matched but I was," said Hendel. "I think we've sent about four letters each at this point, there is a bit of a delay with the mail system, but it's been really great so far."
"I just thought it would be really interesting to try and bridge that gap and meet someone that way and it gives us kind of another support system to rely on, to say what we did or what we've been trying to get to do even though the pandemic is happening kind of little updates on our lives," she added.
Finlandia Village said it's grateful for the support it's received from people like Audet and Hendel. They're hoping sign up additional residents or find more seniors in the village who would like to take part.
"I think the program means a lot of different things to many people, especially now with the pandemic," said Finlandia volunteer coordinator Jeanna de la Morandiere. "It helps relieve that feeling of isolation, something to look forward to each week or each month and making new friends."
De la Morandiere said she's seen a lot of these partnerships lead to real friendships over the course of a few short months.
She even knows of one former resident and one young person who both moved to the Ottawa area by coincidence and are still keeping in touch there.
"Letter writing is definitely a lost art, it was something that our folks maybe did more often when there wasn't email in those times," De la Morandiere said. "Letter writing was most common and happened most often, so I think this helps them get back into something that they're familiar with or that they thoroughly enjoy."
For more information on how to get involved or to volunteer, Audet can be reached by email at email@example.com.