The onset of COVID-19 has come with some very tangible and practical hardships: getting needed protective equipment, getting medical care if necessary, working from home, or looking for work in the event of a job loss. Just as critical as dealing with these issues, though, are the emotional burdens that arise from social distancing and prolonged isolation, particularly for vulnerable populations.
To that end, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation organized an event to make cards for seniors, April 16, with BHC students from grades eight through 12 sending reminders to The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Place residents that they are not alone.
“Given all of the crises that have happened because of coronavirus, BHC has moved its programming online,” said Alicia Gallant, BHC’s assistant director of education. “As part of that, I wanted to create a program where our teens could participate in social action while from the safety of their homes.”
The principal purpose of the cards was to give Weinberg Place residents a sense that people in the community are thinking of them, at a time when many are forced apart from their social contacts.
The event was part of NextGen, a program for BHC teenagers that, in the past, has organized events such as social justice labs, Gallant said. She got the idea to organize students to make these cards from Rabbi Dena Shaffer, the executive director of 4Front, which organized a similar event.
“COVID-19 has hit retirement communities particularly hard,” Gallant said. “For us, this is a connection piece, a way for us to reach out and let people know they are not alone.”
Intended as a DIY project, students were given general directions such as using card stock and permanent marker and including messages in the vein of “thinking of you,” Gallant said. For the most part, though, the teens were encouraged to bring their own artistic styles to their cards.
Gallant received help in organizing the event from Stephanie Fishkin, an 11th grade student, whom Gallant referred to as her co-leader.
“On my card, I put ‘This too shall pass,’” Fishkin said. “These were messages we found on Pinterest — positive, optimistic messages to cheer up the residents. I think the messages’ purpose is just to let the residents know that we’re with them, since they’re kind of in a bubble, so it’s nice to show that we care about them.”
Six or seven students participated, said Fishkin. Students were told to mail their cards from their homes to the Weinberg Place, where they would then be distributed at random to residents, Gallant said.
“I’m hoping that the recipients of the cards will feel connected,” Gallant said, “and know that there are people in the community who are thinking about them, and are thinking about how this virus particularly affects individuals living in areas like Weinberg Place.”
Gallant also hoped that the students themselves would take something significant away from the event.
“I’m hoping that my students take away the idea that they have the ability to impact a person’s life in a positive way, even during a global pandemic like this,” Gallant said.