Interviewing Martina over a Zoom call is a tricky endeavour; she’s so excited, she can hardly stay in the frame. She keeps running to a different room to grab another stack of letters or a batch of cards to show off. Martina lives independently in a community residential home run by St.Amant, and it’s their pen pal program that’s spurred this new collection of hers.
Since the pandemic began, Martina has been struggling, like everyone else, to find a way to connect with friends and family. She has an iPad so she can video chat, but the pen pal program has opened her eyes to new possibilities. “To tell you the truth, I don’t like technology so much. I guess I’m stuck in the olden days,” she says with a giggle. “I like to write because my mind works better that way.”
Martina is normally very active with volunteering, language classes and going to the gym. She’s happiest when she’s busy and public health restrictions have been especially hard for her. “It was really disruptive and upsetting for her in the beginning,” admits Laura Bees, who is a supervisor in the program that supports Martina. “When the pen pal project came up, we jumped at the chance. It’s changed her whole mood; she has something to look forward to every day now. It has truly been such a blessing for her!”
The pen pal program is run by Volunteer Services at St.Amant, who also had to pivot when the pandemic hit. Instead of in-person visits, they thought volunteers might be able to provide friendship and support through letters. The program has been a huge success, having matched over 20 pairs since April.
While she started with a pen pal through St.Amant’s program, Martina quickly realized that writing was something she loved, so she starting writing to everyone she could think of. She now gets at least a letter a day, which lifts her spirits and gives her something to focus on when she gets frustrated with having to stay home so much. “Not only is she learning more about her family, but Martina wants to go back to school and get a job one day so this is great practice for her,” adds Laura.
Martina recently celebrated her 28th birthday, and she has all her cards organised in binders so she can reread them anytime she needs a boost. As Laura and Martina sort through them together, Laura says, “It sure is nice to have all these memories, isn’t it?”
Martina cracks her trademark smile, and hopping from foot to foot, says, “It is, and now these letters are giving me new memories! It makes me cry when I get letters from my mom and my cousins because I just love it so much. It’s nice that someone is thinking about me.”
If you’d like to get involved in the Pen Pal program, please visit www.stamant.ca/volunteer.