Sophomore Brianna Hedges was brainstorming with her dad one day on what activities members of Western Carolina University’s Recreational Therapy Association group could participate in as a way to reach out while they are physically unable to go out and volunteer in places because of the COVID-19 crisis.
They came up with the idea of making inspirational cards for residents of nursing homes. Hedges, a recreational therapy major from Raleigh who also is the marketing coordinator for RTA, pitched the idea to the group. They decided to make cards for The Laurels of GreenTree Ridge in Asheville.
The group mailed about a dozen cards to the nursing home facility. The cards began arriving this week, said Miranda Evans, a 2006 graduate of WCU’s recreational therapy program who now works as the recreation services director at The Laurels of GreenTree Ridge.
“I delivered the cards to two of my residents (Tuesday, April 7),” Evans said. “They were so excited to start a new correspondence with someone in the community. One of the residents is a retired teacher and was active in a civilian’s club in another city in North Carolina. She is looking forward to sending a response. The resident said, ‘This is so thoughtful and I really think it is going to be interesting for both of us. There is something special about written correspondence, and it makes you feel lucky that someone is thinking about you. It’s nice to take time away from electronics, unplug and do something good for someone else.’ ”
The RTA members, along with Jennifer Hinton, associate professor and recreational therapy program director, created the cards while on Zoom, a video conferencing service.
“It was enjoyable to have RTA members gather over Zoom for this project and seeing the group have the desire to help reach out during this time where those at The Laurels of GreenTree Ridge and other nursing homes can’t have visitors,” Hedges said. “Our goal was to be able to provide these cards as something that might bring a smile to individuals during these hard times.”
Hinton, whose background is in behavioral health care, said one way to lift depression and anxiety is to reach out and help someone else.
“When you can get outside of yourself, it can help you to feel better about what’s happening in your world,” Hinton said. “I think that this was just one of those opportunities to not only connect them with each other, but also they’re giving back to other people who are even more isolated than they are.”
Orangellys Santiago, a recreational therapy student from Whitsett, was one of those who felt rewarded. Santiago created a card that read, “Stay strong. We’re thinking of you.”
“Even though it was something small, it represents the importance of helping older adults in our community, especially during a time like this,” Santiago said. “RTA wanted to reach out to these individuals to let them know we are here for them and to motivate them to remain hopeful as this pandemic passes. Social distancing may keep us apart, but they are never forgotten in our hearts.”
RTA is a registered student organization for recreational therapy majors and pre-majors. Its main goal is to promote public awareness of the benefits of utilizing recreation and other activities as forms of active treatment and their roles in establishing and maintaining a balanced lifestyle.
Evans, who said Cullowhee will always be home to her, was not surprised that the RTA members reached out to send messages of encouragement.
“We are all connected in a special way. Regardless of when someone attended WCU, there is a connection that is special,” Evans said. “WCU always looks after its own by connecting and finding ways to build each other up. The recreational therapy department has always been a close-knit group. The fact that they are still checking in with us and finding ways to build up, not only our lives, but the lives of these sweet residents, is truly heart-warming.
“Our residents here are facing something we are all coming to understand even better. They are unable to see or visit with their families, be around their friends, or go out into the community, so it’s important to let them know, ‘someone is thinking of you and we care.’ My goal every day is to make sure these sweet people know we are here for them and we love them. I feel incredibly blessed to have attended WCU, but to still have connections there that are focused on improving the lives of others makes me proud to be a Catamount.”
Location: Cullowhee - Main Campus
Type: Residential, Undergraduate
Innovative, Progressive Education
Certification Exam Passage Rate: 90.9%
Faculty Licensed Rec. Therapists