Handwritten postcards from TCDSB’s Catholic Leadership Team are helping to brighten the day for isolated seniors. Photo courtesty CSLIT

Students aim to ease seniors’ isolation

By 
  • April 1, 2021

A group of Toronto high school students is spreading some Easter season cheer and brightening the days of residents in a retirement residence.

Through a program they are calling “Writirement Homes,” participants from the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s Catholic Student Leadership Impact Team (CSLIT) are connecting with isolated seniors adversely affected by COVID-19 with hand-written letters.

In line with CSLIT’s mental health pillar of focus this year, students and staff from across the TCDSB have been sending their messages of love, support and encouragement through an online form. A group of student volunteers will be transcribing these notes onto postcards, which were to be hand delivered to Toronto retirement homes in time for Easter.

“The holidays are a great time to give back and something as little as a letter can hold such a timeless effect on somebody,” said Makeda Muluneh, CSLIT director of administrative affairs and a Grade 12 student at St. John Henry Newman Catholic High School. “Somebody could really be needing a little push of confidence or affirmation that somebody is here for them, even if it’s a stranger.”

Muluneh, along with Stephen Chiu of St. Michael’s Choir School and Audri Supsup of Senator O’Connor College School, both in Grade 11, have been reaching out to retirement homes and recruited a subcommittee of CSLIT volunteers from various high schools across the city to help transcribe the letters. With this being the second Easter of the global pandemic, they hope this small act of kindness will make a positive impact in a time when many are isolated from loved ones.

“Obviously one little letter can’t fix everything, but I think that positivity is a big part of mental health,” said Muluneh. “When there are people going out of their way to spread a little bit more positivity, it could just cause a chain reaction. You never know who or how much a person needed a little of that in their life.”

Michael Consul from the board’s Catholic Students Leadership department oversees and supports CSLIT initiatives. Its roughly 300 student members meet monthly where they create task forces around various pillars in support of social justice and equity. Throughout the year, student leaders pitch their ideas to Consul for approval and are then empowered to execute with his guidance and support.

Among the many initiatives taking place both at the school level and board wide, students have held fundraisers and run projects to support charities and families struggling financially due to the pandemic. 

With retirement homes disproportionately impacted over the past year by the virus, Consul says this initiative like others in the program support Catholic teaching of empathy and compassion for others. He said the goal is always to bring out the leader in each student and challenge them to think outside of their own needs and focus on others.

“I’m always preaching to the students that feeling sad or empathetic towards a particular group or person is really just the first step,” said Consul. “Do you have enough motivation to go beyond that feeling of sympathy and take action to actually make a change? I pat them on the back because they’ve met repeatedly in terms of planning and initiating and organizing so that they can help other people outside of themselves. So extremely proud of them putting their faith into action.”

CSLIT students also held a successful Valentine’s card initiative and say with families celebrating Jesus’ sacrifice during Easter, it is another great opportunity to give back. They hope the positive messages will help give people the strength to know they will get through this difficult time.

“I know everybody is going through a really hard time right now, but I think that everything passes,” said Muluneh. “I read this one quote that said that God gives His strongest battles to His strongest soldiers. I know that it’s just going to take some time, but as long as we stay united and together, I think we’ll be fine in the end.”

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