By Savanna Kearney
Being quarantined for the past month has been hard on everyone. Loved ones are getting on each other’s nerves from being cooped up together for too long, and large families are getting more and more restless. But how hard must it be for those who are at higher risk from a pre-existing condition, especially if they live alone? Or those who reside in nursing homes who must live with stringent distancing restrictions for fear of the virus spreading quickly among residents. The past month must have been incredibly difficult and lonely.
Thankfully, the Catholic youth of our diocese have stepped up to the plate. Many parish’s youth ministers have started a pen-pal program for their kids, encouraging them to write letters to homebound parishioners. One of those parishes is Our Lady Star of the Sea in Ponte Vedra Beach.
According to Catherine Savilla, youth minister, there are currently about 44 youth and 46 adults participating in the program. Most of the adults are homebound parishioners, either residing in their own home or an assisted living center – The Cove at Marsh Landing and The Palms Assisted Living and Memory Care Center on Solana Road.
“This initiative enables the youth to share their joy and energy with our older community members,” said Savilla. “We hope the youth will gain wisdom in faith from the senior parishioners that they are exchanging letters with through the program. It is a ministry of accompaniment.”
Olivia Waletzke, a 16-year-old sophomore at Ponte Vedra High School, said she loves the pen pal program. Towards the end of Lent, she sent her pen pal, Pocius, who resides at the Cove at Marsh Landing, an Easter card and handwritten note introducing herself. Not long after, she received a letter back, wishing her a happy Easter and saying how much she enjoyed receiving her card and letter.
“This is a great way for parishioners of all ages to stay connected during this time of separation from the church and our community,” said Olivia. “I think it’s important to keep the elderly in our hearts during this time because they are really noticing the effects of the virus the most.”
Olivia’s mom said she’d seen a difference in Olivia and her younger sister since they started writing letters to homebound parishioners.
“Our girls have great relationships with their grandparents that live in other states,” said Jennifer Waletzke. “They understand how isolating and lonely it can be to stay at home when you’re older. It made them feel good that during a time of social distancing, they can still be of help.”