Emily Truman Delivers Letters
and Cheer Packages to Seniors
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography by Christina Friedrichsen-Truman
One good thing to come out of this pandemic is how the isolation we’ve all been forced to endure has sparked a greater awareness of the value of connection.
Emily Truman is a 17-year-old high school student. While volunteering at La Chaumiere Retirement Residence, she noticed that the holidays could be difficult for some of the residents.
“I was visiting there every week, bringing around books for the seniors and running activities,” Emily recalls. “I was getting to know the residents so well, bringing around birthday gifts and hearing about their life stories. But, I was often hearing about how friends and family in the area just couldn’t visit over the Christmas season. So, I decided I needed to do something about that.”
Emily launched the Stay Gold Society in the fall of 2019, kicking things off with her Holiday HappyMail campaign.
Through the Holiday HappyMail program, Emily encouraged the community to donate handmade holiday cards that would be distributed among retirement residences and long-term care homes across Windsor and Essex County. And thanks to the participation of over 100 schools, businesses, libraries and community organizations, Emily was able to collect over 10,000 cards in the program’s inaugural year.
Emily was completely floored by the impact her initiative created.
“One of my volunteers was showing this woman a beautiful card that a kid at a local school had made,” Emily explains. “And the woman had tears in her eyes. She was so happy! She said it was one of the only cards she’d received that year. There’s been so many moments where I’ve seen what an impactful thing we’re doing. Seniors are so often forgotten.”
And now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Stay Gold Society’s efforts are more important than ever.
“I’ve really seen firsthand the effects of the pandemic,” Emily explains. “My grandmother is in a long-term care home. She has just been so isolated. She was actually stuck in her room for several months. Seeing what she’s going through and knowing how many seniors have become completely isolated even before COVID, it’s now more important than ever to show gestures of support and kindness.”
One of these gestures of support and kindness is the Cheer Package program. Each Cheer Package is filled with small gift items, such as activity books, snacks and cards. The goal of the program is to bring smiles to the faces of seniors and to remind them that they are loved and cared about.
Emily was able to deliver an initial round of 200 Cheer Packages to seniors at La Chaumiere Retirement Home, Cardinal Place and several smaller retirement residences thanks to a $1,500 #RisingYouth grant from TakingITGlobal, the Government of Canada and the Canada Service Corps.
“My Mom, sister and friend spent many hours putting things together and writing out cards over the summer,” Emily states. “I think we totalled over a 100 hours. But, seeing the reaction our Cheer Packages got was so heartwarming. The seniors were just so surprised and so happy that someone took the time to do something so unexpected. There were tears in my eyes.”
Another gesture Emily has spearheaded to help seniors during the pandemic is the Virtual HappyMail program.
“I started this in the early days of the pandemic when everything was very uncertain,” Emily explains. “I didn’t really know how to reach out via mail, because there was so much worry about transmission of the virus. So, I started sending in virtual letters. There was a contact form on my site where people could upload their handwritten letters. Then, I could print them off and send them out.”
The response to the Virtual HappyMail program was incredible. Emily received
submissions from around the globe.
“People have been so generous throughout the pandemic and so engaged with the community,” Emily states. “More than ever, people are looking to reach out. That’s where these programs serve as an easy, tangible way to make a difference.”
While Emily appreciates every single virtual letter, one in particular captured her attention.
“It was this beautiful, crayon-covered card made by a child,” Emily explains. “It says: ‘You are the older generation that taught us to do well in life. We thank you. You are fun, nice, kind, special, smart and funny. We will always have a place in our hearts for you. Everyone respects you.’ That just touched me so much. Kids deserve so much credit for their ability to detect when someone could use words of kindness. They’re so giving. I saw so much of that when I was doing the Holiday HappyMail last year.”
Now, as the holiday season comes around, Emily is continuing to push forward with two of her programs: the Holiday HappyMail and Cheer Packages.
“For the Holiday HappyMail, I have my address listed on the website,” Emily explains. “We’re collecting handmade Christmas cards. They can be mailed in this year, and they’ll be mailed to retirement and long-term care homes. I’m trying to collect as many as possible! I’m sure each one will make a senior smile.”
Suggestions and tips for decorating the cards can be found on the Stay Gold Society website.
“The cards can be made by anyone,” Emily states. “Schoolkids. Seniors. Anyone who wants to participate!”
However, Emily does have one strict stipulation about the Holiday HappyMail cards.
“No glitter,” Emily stresses. “Refrain from the glitter. Please.”
In addition, Emily is launching a second round of the Cheer Package program for the holidays.
“I’m really looking to focus on this initiative this year,” Emily states. “We’re collecting small gift items, such as crossword puzzles, colouring books, bath and body items, snacks and cards. We’re also looking for volunteers to help make up the Cheer Packages at home.”
Emily has also started a GoFundMe page for people who would like to contribute to the creation of Cheer Packages.
As well, Emily stresses that, because of COVID, both her programs will take proper safety protocols into effect.
“Because of COVID, these cards and packages will be mailed in rather than dropped off at community collection boxes,” Emily explains. “So, I am asking that people get their cards mailed in by early December.”
And while the pandemic continues to reshape our lives, Emily continues to provide an example of how true connection can transcend any barrier.
“The Stay Gold Society is a really big passion of mine,” Emily states. “I’m always working on new initiatives for it. I love working on it. I love connecting with seniors.”
More information about Emily and her various programs is available at staygoldsociety.org.
Emily is accepting cards until Christmas.
Cards can be mailed to the Stay Gold Society at:
P.O. Box 21015
Manning Road Post Office