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#UofReginaCares: Caring for our community
Jillyan Clark BSRS’18 strives to ensure her pen pal program benefits as many people as possible
Jillyan Clark BSRS’18 strives to ensure her pen pal program benefits as many people as possible Photo: courtesy Jillyan Clark

The little idea that could: U of R Alumna brings joy and caring to seniors and kids alike

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: May 13, 2020 12:00 a.m.


Jillyan Clark BSRS’18 had an idea for connecting residents without visitors in seniors’ homes and kids stuck in the house with their parents due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She began a pen pal program.

What started out as a single post on Facebook asking kids to send in letters and artwork to seniors at Qu’Appelle House, quickly generated 20,000 views and an overwhelming response from parents, kids, teachers, and the public.

“The pen pal program has been such an incredible experience and has become larger than I could have ever imagined!” said Clark, who is the Recreation Coordinator at Qu'Appelle House, a seniors’ residence in Regina. “I put out a post reaching out to kids that want to write letters to our seniors. It blew up within a day and a half! We got a lot of letters from that single post and it’s been growing since then.”

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A single post from Clark generated
an overwhelming response from
kids and parents, teachers and the
public

At last count, Clark estimates she’s received more than 75 letters and 50 pieces of art for the 34 residents. To ensure that residents’ health is not jeopardized, Clark receives the pen pal correspondence by email or snail mail and then takes pictures of the mailed items to share with the residents. So far, she has created several Joy Walls of pictures, art, and letters for residents to enjoy.

Since her initial post on March 30, the pen pal program has expanded to include participants from the general public, and from teachers in Regina and as far away as Nova Scotia. 

“The partnerships I’ve formed through schools during the pandemic is definitely something I want to keep going forward,” said Clark. “Teachers have been reaching out to me to see if they can use this program as part of an English project or an art project where the kids will send in their contributions and then they can be graded.” 

Public interest in her program has generated more than enough letters to keep her seniors busy. Letter writing is now a part of the residents’ weekly activities. 

“Kids want a reply so I want to make sure we respond to every letter we get,” said Clark. “Once a week we’re writing letters back to the children. A few seniors have written several letters. They enjoy it and want to do it.” 

This overwhelming response has provided the perfect opportunity to extend the pen pal program to other seniors’ residences in Regina. 

“I’ve also referred interested people to other facilities that have partnered with us on this project – Cupar & District Nursing Home, Eden Care Communities, and Santa Maria Senior Citizens’ Home. That’s cool to see – my little idea that stemmed from just a conversation has grown into something that is inter-facility.” 

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Letters and artwork brings comfort,
connection, and creativity to seniors

The drive to help make the world a better place is something that was instilled in Clark during her studies in therapeutic recreation and psychology at the University of Regina. 

“I am still in contact with a lot of my recreation professors,” said Clark, who recalls her time studying under Rebecca Genoe in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Kathy Park, Academic Supervisor. “They really shaped the person I am in my career. They showed me what the outside world could look like. What they’ve done to advocate for recreation is amazing and I want to do that as well. This is a really good step in the right direction.” 

Clark was inspired to create the program by what she was seeing and experiencing at work, as well as from conversations with her sisters who have young children at home during the pandemic. 

“Everyone’s going through something right now. It’s important to me to try and get my programs to benefit as many people as I can,” stressed Clark. “Daily, I look at my residents and they don’t always understand what’s going on during the pandemic. It’s heartbreaking.” 

For the past seven weeks, residents in care homes across Saskatchewan have not been able to receive visitors. 

“The one thing that gets me is that they don’t realize that people out there care about them during this time,” said Clark. “They think people are so involved with themselves and protecting themselves. They’re blown away by people taking the time to reach out to them and care about how they’re doing during this crisis.” 

“A lot of them have said ‘I don’t worry about myself because I’ve been through a lot of things that have shaped this world, like the wars,’” explained Clark. “They’re worried about the kids, honestly, so they’re writing their letters back asking how the kids are doing and sending them hints about how to keep busy.” 

To participate in the pen pal program, contact jillyan.clark@saskhealthauthority.ca or reach out to your local care homes and see how you can spread some joy during this time. Cupar & District Nursing Home, Eden Care Communities, and Santa Maria Senior Citizens’ Home are all trying to start a pen pal program for their residents. 

Creating a ‘Joy Wall’ – Watch the video with Jillyan Clark 

Check out #UofReginaCares for more stories about U of R students, alumni, faculty, and staff who are using their ingenuity, resolve, and hearts to care for our community during these challenging times.