Beyond the letters: How a pen pal program at Aspira Kensington Place is bringing generations together

Posted by Danyelle Gatsos on May 8, 2023
When the world was shut down, the residents at Aspira Kensington Place were missing their usual in-person connections. Our team was doing everything possible to maintain social activities while adhering to the public health protocols and restrictions. It certainly wasn’t an easy time, but something really special was born out of this unfavourable situation – a pen pal program called P.S. I love you.

aryelleanddaniellaAryelle Sigulim, 12 at the time, decided to begin writing to seniors to help uplift their spirits. Little did we know, it would foster some extraordinary intergenerational relationships and become a program well-loved by everyone in our community. Over the last two years, the program continued to expand, with more students volunteering to write letters to our residents.

Today, many residents still look forward to receiving their letters and write back sharing their experiences with the younger generation. With a predominantly Jewish resident population, this includes stories from the holocaust and the great depression, to tales of starting a new life in Canada, and so much more.

Now, I run the program in partnership with Aryelle and her mother and we have roughly 30 student volunteers. Even better, we’ve been able to open the program to include more in-person events. One of our most recent events was around the Jewish holiday Tu BiShvat, which is New Year of the Trees. To celebrate, we had residents and students come together to pick a plant and paint a pot.samdancing3

Even the simplest of events brings so much happiness into the home. I can recall one of our residents who typically sleeps a lot throughout the day. During an event with live music, this resident was up dancing in front of everyone – it seemed as if the students brought a fountain of youth that everyone took a sip from.

As we near the end of the school year, we are planning to host an Alice in Wonderland themed Prom where residents and students will get dressed up, dance together, and capture the memories with a photo booth. We have our Executive Chef and culinary team on board to create specialty desserts inspired by the classic adventure story. The excitement around this event is building day-by-day and I can’t wait to see it come to life.

As I reflect on my time here having recently celebrated my 18th work anniversary, one of my biggest challenges was designing a program for volunteers. In a world where less people have time to give, I didn’t think a program like this could be sustained. But I’m proud to say that it has become something students from around the community look forward to participating in. We even had to create a waiting list due to the level of interest.

I encourage every long-term care community to have a program like this. I can’t say enough about how positive these experiences have been for the residents, the students, and our team. It gives everyone involved a sense of purpose and the smiles are still on residents’ faces days after receiving a letter or joining an event.

          harryandvivianna        laura        thea


Topics: Sienna Senior Living, Cultivating Happiness, Innovative Programs, Aspira, Aspira Retirement Living, Kensington Place, Pen Pals, Aspira Life