It was May 2020. I was overcoming the uncertainty that came from the transition from years of dropping my daughter off at school and then going into work… to sheltering with the whole family at home (all the time) while working in a makeshift office space and experiencing the anxieties of the unfolding reality of COVID-19.

I heard the heartbreaking stories about what was happening in senior homes and CHSLDs in Quebec. The fear of transmitting the virus closed doors to ongoing visits and seniors concerned for their health stayed in place physically isolated from friends and families.

I was encouraged to hear about how Quebec’s English speaking community organizations had mobilized to support seniors ensuring access to food, medications, and up-to-date information about COVID-19 in English. It was heartening to hear how communities had come together to support the most vulnerable populations, filling in the gaps as needed.

A project called Semer le bonheur was launched in the Eastern Townships by a collection of partners including les Correspondances d’Eastman that sought to engage young people to do their part by writing letters to seniors who might benefit from some kind words and the joy of reading an old-fashioned letter.

Inspired by the project, LEARN translated the instructions and writing prompts and the English Language Arts Network (ELAN) worked with artists to develop models of creative letters – launching Letters with Love: an inter-generational writing project.

The project started in June and a number of Community Learning Centre (CLC) schools jumped at the opportunity, leveraging their pre-existing relationships with English speaking seniors. Maggie Richmond, the Community Development Agent (CDA) for the Noranda CLC, partnered with Neighbours Association and the Val d’Or Native Friendship Centre to reach elders and seniors with letters and pictures from the Golden Valley CLC School and the Noranda CLC School, both a part of the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB).

Maggie told me that, “one of the recipients was a retired employee from the WQSB and felt honoured to receive letters from students in his former school board in English.”

Students from the Valcartier CLC in the Central Quebec School Board (CQSB) sent letters with love to Saint Brigid’s Home, a local senior home and soon after, Jayne Doddridge received the following email…

Dear Mrs. Doddridge,

Your lovely letters made people very happy.

They were distributed to people who were particularly lonely and without many family members.

You brought back smiles on many faces!

Thank you for taking care of the community. Thank you for thinking of the elderly!

Get Involved! We’re not out of the woods yet.

Engage your students in writing letters with love to seniors and vulnerable people in our English speaking communities. It’s a great way for ELA, FLS, and Arts teachers to encourage authentic writing and production of art for a specific audience.

The Letters with Love website includes guidelines on how to get involved, writing prompts for Elementary and Secondary students, and sample letters and art to inspire young people.

Many schools already have connections to local seniors and senior homes that would appreciate the letters, but if you need an introduction, simply fill out the form and LEARN with local Community Learning Centres will help make a connection.

The current COVID-19 situation presents a valuable opportunity for young people to learn the importance of service and to appreciate how acts of kindness and caring can strengthen our communities while providing a keen sense of belonging.