British Columbia

'Give a smile, get a smile': Students find creative way to connect with seniors while visits banned

The big posterboards that are on display throughout the hallways of Normanna Living, a 100-bed seniors facility in Burnaby, B.C., are covered with photos, messages, cards and pictures from nearby Second Street Community School.

Second Street Community School students are sending messages, pictures and cards to seniors at Normanna Living

This 93-year-old woman says actor Robert Redford makes her smile. (Normanna Living)

The big posterboards that are on display throughout the hallways of Normanna Living, a 100 bed seniors facility in Burnaby, are covered with photos, messages, cards and pictures from nearby Second Street Community School.

The messages started showing up after Normanna suspended face-to-face visits because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many residents feeling down and lonely.

Leslie Torresan, the manager of recreation, volunteers and community relations, believes pictures of smiling children are the perfect remedy to loneliness, so she reached out to the school and asked for help.

"We thought, why can't we do something to cheer everyone up?" she said.

"That's when we came up with an idea — give a smile, get a smile."

Pictures of students holding up written messages to seniors are on display at Normanna Living in Burnaby, B.C. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Normanna residents put together posters of things that made them smile, such as their families, politeness or playing table tennis.

A man named Bob, 76, has a picture of a casino on his poster and a 93-year-old resident named Mary included a picture of actor Robert Redford.

"Robert Redford makes her smile," Torresan said laughing. "He made a lot of people smile."

Staff then took pictures of the seniors with their posters and sent them to the school, which prompted students to respond with pictures and messages of their own.

"The residents are absolutely thrilled," Torresan said. "As soon as they see the pictures, they smile."

Seniors at Normanna Living in Burnaby are trading stories and pictures with students at a nearby school of what makes them smile. (Normanna Living)

Community connection

The school has been connected to the seniors facility for some time now, inviting residents to special events and sending the choir over to perform concerts.

Students planned to visit Normanna in April, but the trip was postponed because of physical distancing rules.

Burnaby School District community school co-ordinator Gayle Beavil says it's just as important for young people to stay connected with their neighbours during the pandemic as it is for seniors.

"It's an ongoing relationship we try to have with the centre and other places in the community," she said.

"It's really important to keep the community connected."

When visiting restrictions are lifted, Torresan plans to throw a party at Normanna so that students and residents can discuss in person what makes them smile.

"It's going to be a big carnival," she said.

"But first, the residents have to finish their thank you cards to the students."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

About the Author

Jesse Johnston worked in private radio from 2004 to 2014 in Vancouver, Red Deer and Calgary. He spent the next five years based out of Surrey (his hometown) as CBC's South of the Fraser reporter until he joined the Impact Team in 2019. Jesse is a two-time recipient of the RTDNA Dave Rogers Award for Best Short Radio Feature. He loves radio, running and dogs. He also loves the Detroit Lions, but if you follow him on Twitter, you already knew that. @Jesse_Johnston

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