Laura Larson and her family are busy right now making Valentine's Day cards for older adults who might be feeling a little lonely these days.
Larson, her husband and their three young children are spreading the love by writing inspirational messages and sketching colorful designs and drawings on cards as part of a nationwide network of volunteers dubbed the “Cupid Crew.” The group of volunteers, organized by Wish of a Lifetime from AARP, strives to make the annual day of love special for older adults in nursing homes, long-term care facilities and other settings throughout the country.
"A lot of people are very isolated right now, especially with COVID,” says Larson, of Denver. “If we can take the time and reach out and make a connection, there's great power and value in that."
Larson is one of thousands of Cupid Crew volunteers who have worked annually on this Valentine's Day effort. Traditionally volunteers delivered roses to older adults, and often spent some time in conversation. Last year about 3,000 Cupid Crew volunteers distributed 30,000 roses nationwide.
Volunteer with Cupid Crew
To participate in this Valentine's Day effort visit www.wishofalifetime.org/cupid, to download a card. Use your creativity to decorate and personalize the card, then drop it off for a senior of your choice or a senior living facility in your local area.
This year, due to the pandemic and social distancing restrictions, volunteers are downloading cards from Wish of a Lifetime, and personalizing them with messages and decorations, to be delivered to residential care facilities and distributed to older adults all across the country.
Through Cupid Crew and other initiatives, Wish of a Lifetime works to combat the negative effects of isolation for older adults and strengthen intergenerational connections. Wish of a Lifetime from AARP, which grants wishes to people 65 and older in recognition of their special accomplishments, contributions and sacrifices, is seeking additional volunteers to join Cupid Crew. You can participate by visiting www.wishofalifetime.org/cupid.
For Valentine's Day this year, the organization will have some extra help. Girls Scouts of the USA has joined the effort, enlisting girl scouts and troops to download and personalize Valentine's Day cards. Joining the Cupid Crew dovetails with the Girl Scouts’ mission of service and connection to the community, says Sapreet Kaur Saluja, chief strategic partnerships and new ventures officer for Girl Scouts of the USA.
"Older adults who are farther from their families and also girls who are not near intergenerational members of their own families have the chance to connect and have joy together,” she says. “It may sound really simple, but it's really powerful."
And even though that connection may be a step removed this year because of the pandemic, the Cupid Crew effort ties into Girl Scout objectives. “Girls want to do things that make a difference and they're willing to spend their time, talent and creativity to do that,” Saluja says. “This opportunity combined so many of these things."
Combating Valentine's Day loneliness
More than 2 million older adults live in residential care settings in the U.S., and amid a pandemic that has stretched on for almost a year, many people are not able to see family and friends, says Tom Wagenlander, executive director of Wish of a Lifetime. Loneliness and isolation among older adults can have serious health consequences and Cupid Crew's efforts are combating those issues.
"Cupid Crew is a movement for all ages and opens the door for every generation to engage with older adults, strengthen social ties and acknowledge the value of intergenerational connections,” Wagenlander says. “A simple card with a loving note is a catalyst for the change we hope to inspire around the country."
For many older adults in long-term care facilities, the impact can be significant, says Joy Regelin, activities director at The Gardens at St. Elizabeth, a residential senior community in Denver. In the past, when roses were delivered, that meeting between a younger volunteer and a senior resident made a difference in fending off loneliness, particularly on Valentine's Day, she says.
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This year, the act of receiving a card may be even more poignant, Regelin says. “When family is not allowed to come because of the restrictions, it's hard for them,” says Regelin, who noted that the Gardens at St. Elizabeth has 104 residents in independent living and about 50 residents in assisted living. “If they get a card, it shows them that at least somebody cares."
For Larson, the good feelings go both ways. She said having her children — 8, 10 and 12 years old — volunteer with Cupid Crew gives them a chance to give back to an older generation and show respect and gratitude. This year, the family has enlisted other friends and their families to fill out over 200 cards for the effort. The cards are being inscribed with words of appreciation and gratitude, poems, stickers, photos and drawings, she said.
During previous in-person flower deliveries, Larson's family has been able to take a moment with residents, talk to them and give them a hug.
She recalls one rose delivery — the family's last of the day —where they spotted a man in a wheelchair alone in the dining room. They delivered a rose and sat down to talk to Tom. He invited the family to his room to show off his photos of boats and talk about his passion for all things nautical. During the discussion Tom told the family he didn't get to see his grandchildren often, or his wife, who didn't live in the facility, Larson says.
"He was lonely,” Larson says, adding that he asked for a picture with her children and offered them snacks. “You could tell he needed something more and we wanted to take the time to do that. It was a beautiful moment."