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 similar 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. When the pandemic hit, volunteers instead made cards and dropped them off. Last year thousands of Cupid Crew volunteers delivered cards to 218,000 older adults nationwide. Building on last year’s event, Cupid Crew hopes to deliver nearly 250,000 colorful, funny, sweet cards this year.
Volunteer with Cupid Crew
To participate in this Valentine's Day effort go to Wish of a Lifetime, to download a card. Use your creativity to decorate and personalize the card, then drop it off for an older adult of your choice or a senior living facility in your local area.
Volunteers can download cards from Wish of a Lifetime, and personalize 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, the organization will have some extra help. Girls Scouts of the USA is 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 Savita Raj, chief program officer for Girl Scouts of the USA.
"Being part of the Cupid Crew aligns with the importance of service, which is an integral part of being a Girl Scout,” she says. “Experiences building one-on-one relationships and supporting local communities promote empathy and teach communication skills, which strengthen a girl’s sense of being part of a larger whole.”
Working on the Cupid Crew initiative is good for the girls — those ages kindergarten through high school are participating — as well as recipients.
“At Girl Scouts, we know participating in positive change can help alleviate feelings associated with anxiety and depression,” Raj says. “Sending a cheerful card and message boosts the morale of both the sender and the recipient, a win-win for Girl Scouts and the older adults who receive them.”
Combating Valentine's Day loneliness
Amid a pandemic that has stretched on for years, 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 help.
"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 Connie Moore, director of life enrichment at Kavod Senior Life in Denver. The organization has 400 residents, most in independent living situations.
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Moore says the cards and outreach have even more impact on residents during the pandemic. Along with cards and roses from Cupid Crew, Kavod residents also will receive a Valentine’s Day goody bag that staff are putting together.
"When you’re that isolated, it’s really debilitating and we see that it’s taking a toll on our residents physically and mentally,” she says. Initiatives like the Cupid Crew card delivery make “a world of difference.”
For Larson, the good feelings go both ways. She said having her younger children — 9, 11 and 13 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 250 cards for the effort. The cards are being inscribed with words of appreciation and gratitude, poems, stickers and drawings, she says.
“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has been life-altering for so many and even now, two years into this, isolation continues to remain high,” she says. “The more we can find ways to connect to others, even if remotely, the more certain I am that we are contributing to improved mental and social health outcomes.”
During pre-pandemic 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."
This article was originally published on January 21, 2021 . It's been updated to reflect new information.
Michelle Davis covers home, family and multicultural stories and is a feature editor for AARP. Previously, she was the senior writer and social media strategist for EdWeek Market Brief and a senior correspondent at Education Week. She also was a regional correspondent in Knight Ridder's Washington bureau, covering the U.S. Congress and the White House.