WOODSTOCK – Jan. 30, 2021 – Barely three days after being evacuated to the Mill River Resort in Woodstock after a fire at their home – the community care center of Le Chez-Nous Co-op in Wellington, its elderly residents were pleasantly surprised to receive a nice little unexpected gift. Each received a beautifully hand-crafted and personalized “happiness card” from a young friend at Greenfield Elementary School in Summerside.
These students, who had established a friendly relationship with seniors some time ago, wanted to make sure they offered their best wishes to these seniors in these difficult and traumatic times. The residents were extremely touched and greatly appreciated these beautiful little messages of love, confirmed Claudette Gallant, the centre’s staff team leader.
So where did the idea for this beautiful gesture come from? When teacher Ann Gallant would go visit her mother Louise Arsenault (wife of the late Alyre à Jack, who is now also deceased) at the Chez-Nous, she was constantly amazed to see the vivid reactions of the residents when they received cards or letters or when people came to visit them. Their smiles – which could be seen as much on their lips as in their eyes – were especially radiant when the visitors were children.
That’s why, three years ago, Gallant suggested to her Grade 5 French Immersion class at Greenfield Elementary that they form a friendship with the residents of the Chez-Nous. The students, aged 9 and 10 years, jumped right into the project without hesitation.
LEARNING AND SHARING
Their teacher transformed this initiative into a learning opportunity and class project. The children were paired with one or two elders to allow them to develop a personal relationship with their senior “partner”. A few times a year, the youth wrote cards and letters to them. For example, before Christmas, the youth prepared holiday cards and learned how to write appropriate greetings in French. The same was done on Valentine’s Day. In addition to learning how to write letters and card messages, the youth learned how and why to address seniors with the respectful title “vous”, a new concept for English-speaking youth since this distinction does not exist in their native language.
The seniors who were able to do so responded to the letters from the students, who were always overjoyed to hear news of their senior “pen pal”.
At one point, the children had asked if they could visit Chez-Nous residents. The principal had initially said it would not be possible. But the young people wanted to plead their case so they wrote and all signed a letter to the principal, again as a class project, to convince her of the reasons and benefits of such a trip for both the students and the seniors. Their wish was granted.
They have in fact been able to make two trips to the Chez-Nous. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced the cancellation of the trip planned for 2020. Some of the partnerships also changed over time as the children in Gallant’s class progressed through the grades and some residents left the Chez-Nous, either to go to a manor or by passing away.
The card and letter relationship for the current school year was going very well when the children, to their great horror, learned of the fire at the Chez-Nous on Monday, Jan. 18. Gallant says that the next morning, her students bombarded her with countless questions about the fire but mostly about the safety and health of “their” seniors. She was greatly touched by their love and concern. The teacher reassured them that “their” seniors were safe and sound at the Mill River Resort and that the community had come to their rescue.
The 17 students in her class, as well as the 27 students from Emma-Leigh Arsenault’s Grade 4 class who joined in the initiative, immediately wanted to prepare a message of happiness for the residents to assure them that they had not been forgotten. So they prepared cards with lots of spring colors, with messages of love and hope, and placed them in yellow envelopes. The cards were delivered to Mill River on Thursday, Jan. 21. The goal of giving a little happiness to the seniors in this difficult time was well accomplished.
Gallant challenge other Island classes to undertake similar projects to connect the students with residents of seniors’ homes. “My mother was fortunate to have many children and grandchildren visiting her, but some of the other residents don’t have as many family members and don’t get as many visitors. They can feel a bit isolated, especially in these pandemic times. These people would certainly appreciate receiving a card or letter from a child from time to time.”
PHOTOS: Géralda Gallant, Hilda Landry and Yvonne Arsenault are among the Chez-Nous residents who greatly appreciated the “cards of happiness” they received from their young friends at Greenfield Elementary School a few days after the fire at their residence in Wellington. Here are some of the other cards while they were still in production at the school.
For more information, please contact:
Grade 5 Teacher (French Immersion)
Greenfield Elementary School, Summerside
Employee Team Leader
Le Chez-Nous Co-op