Newman University junior Kayla Garvert works part time in the Student Life office and recently helped organize a letter-writing campaign — Operation Communication — with the Student Life team. The project was created to help residents in assisted living facilities feel more connected to the outside world during a national pandemic.
One of Garvert’s tasks was to create an example of a letter, or a template, for students who were interested in joining in on the fun.
She knew immediately, when the idea was introduced, that she wanted to be a part of such a wonderful project. Writing the template fueled her enthusiasm.
“I was excited to possibly make someone’s day a little brighter and excited at the idea of somebody writing back,” she said.
Dean of Students Christine Schneikart-Luebbe reached out to an assisted living facility who then chose residents that would like to participate in the letter writing. Residents were assigned to students at random and the first correspondence was done via typed letter. Students were encouraged to include their own email within the letter so the recipient could choose to email a response and continue corresponding.
Garvert was matched with an elderly couple. She wasn’t sure if she would get a response, she said, but was hopeful.
Not only did she get a response to her original letter, but she also continues to correspond with them months later. So far, she and the couple have sent more than 30 emails back and forth.
They talk about all sorts of topics, but Garvert said it just started with an introduction.
“In my first letter to them, I introduced myself and explained what I was studying in school. I basically just gave them a hint into my quarantine life, mentioning my three brothers and all of our house projects.”
The resulting response was their own introduction and story.
“He is the primary communicator as his Lithuanian wife is not as fluent in English. He told me about themselves — how long they’ve been in assisted living, family trees, hobbies, places they’ve traveled — and then he attached a PowerPoint he made about Lithuania. Every email since has had a new PowerPoint over a random topic. It’s outstanding,” she exclaimed.
Garvert added that he is visually impaired, so creating the PowerPoints is a task that impresses her, not to mention she gets to learn new things through his presentations.
The couple has also shared much about their personal story — how they met, fell in love, and their life together. She said it is an honor to hear their “love story” and get to know how they connected in life and continue to stay connected.
She looks forward to receiving their next email, no matter what the topic.
“I think with all of the recent news I really needed more positivity in my life. I’m not saying I haven’t been happy, it’s just been nice to get a notification that isn’t about COVID-19 mitigation plans or mask debates. This experience has given me something to look forward too, and I have been blessed to have such a responsive couple.”
She hopes that her emails have given them something to look forward to as well. She knows they have been under strict quarantine rules and haven’t been able to go out or have visitors. She wants her letters to bring them as much enjoyment as they have brought her.
Garvert also hopes to meet her pen pals when it is safe to do so and they have already discussed a lunch date when as soon as they are able.