By Hayley Crandall
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for Community-Based Learning Leadership and Research (CCBLLR) launched a program earlier this month to send letters of encouragement to local older adults during the “Safer-At-Home” order.
The program, which is in partnership with Eastside Senior Services, matches volunteers with a local senior to send letters or cards to while shut in during self-isolation requirements.
Interested volunteers initially sign up at the CCBLLR website and are given an orientation to learn the steps of the program and the best way to formulate letters.
“The way we talk about it in the training is the letters and cards are written in a way to hopefully encourage a response,” said program director Zach Garrity.
The idea is to make a difference in lives and build a relationship with an older adult as they may be struggling with isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to CCBLLR executive director Laurie Marks.
For only being a two-week-old program, they have already recruited 30-40 volunteers along with around 30 older adults from Eastside Senior Services. CCBLLR has hopes of adding more to the roster as the program progresses.
This program emerged as CCBLLR had to deal with the various cancellations of its regular spring volunteer events.
A big one that the department has been doing for 15 years is Make A Difference Day. The annual event gets the community involved in helping older adults in Milwaukee with yard work services such as cleaning, raking, and gardening. Unfortunately, it had to be cancelled this year so CBLLR found this new way to stay connected.
“We would’ve been helping these older adults in their yards during this time,” said Marks. “Knowing we weren’t going to be able to provide that service we wanted the UWM community to still have an opportunity to stay connected
to these people.”
The department has had to adapt or reinvent other volunteering opportunities to the more digital space. CCBLLR, along with other universities throughout Wisconsin, has partnered with Milwaukee schools to help with tutoring local students online.
The tutoring was only supposed to go until May 1 but had to be extended due to Gov. Tony Evers’ order extension including the cancellation of school for the rest of the current school year, which could be something the encouragement letters program could see as well.
They find it hard to really know how long this program will run for in these unsettling times, according to Marks.
“I think we want to keep it going as long as the need for it exists,” said Marks. “But really what you hope for is that the ‘need’ goes away. We want, eventually, to make it so people don’t feel that way, so isolated.”