Navy aircrewman Mackenzie Ball is writing and collecting letters to send to residents at HomePlace at Oak Harbor Memory Care like Dottie Luce, many of whom have not had visitors for months. Photo courtesy of HomePlace at Oak Harbor Memory Care

Navy aircrewman Mackenzie Ball is writing and collecting letters to send to residents at HomePlace at Oak Harbor Memory Care like Dottie Luce, many of whom have not had visitors for months. Photo courtesy of HomePlace at Oak Harbor Memory Care

Navy woman arranging letters to send to seniors increasingly isolated by pandemic

While visiting a fundraiser at HomePlace at Oak Harbor Memory Care, Mackenzie Ball learned that some seniors had not received visitors since February.

She said she felt compelled to do something.

Like most senior living facilities, HomePlace was closed to visitors after the COVID-19 pandemic began, though some socially distant visits are allowed.

“That kind of stuff breaks my heart,” Ball said.

Ball explained that some of her relatives have lived in senior living facilities and she’s always felt compassion and concern for older people.

Too often, she said, older people are isolated.

With Thanksgiving coming, Ball said she was trying to think of a way to reach out to the residents at a time when most people cannot physically visit them. She came up with the idea of writing letters and collecting cards for them.

Reaching out to Valentin Delbar, lifestyle director at HomePlace at Oak Harbor Memory Care, Ball asked for a list of residents and two of their interests. Ball and her girlfriend were planning to split the list and write to each of the residents themselves, but she posted the list on Facebook to see if others were interested.

The response was overwhelming.

“It was a very welcomed, but unexpected, explosion of attention,” she said.

Soon, Ball had three people who wanted to write each one on her list of 32 residents.

A mother-and-daughter team offered to create packages for everyone on the list.

Some deployed Navy members overseas also offered to send letters via email.

A Navy air crewman herself who moved to Oak Harbor a few years ago, Ball contacted Hillcrest Elementary and asked about having students make Thanksgiving holiday cards.

Delbar said one resident has already received a letter from Ball.

“She was basically talking to her like they were friends,” Delbar said. “Like, ‘You don’t know me but I’m writing to you because I like to do this, too.’”

Getting the letters is helpful for the memory care residents because reading engages their mind, similar to how reading a book stimulates their brains, according to Delbar. It’s also important that the residents to feel like someone is interested in them.

“It’s good for them just to feel love again, just to feel like somebody is interested in them today or what they like to do,” Delbar said. “It’s all about sharing things.”

Some of the letters Ball has already received include the writers’ return addresses, provided in hopes of keeping the correspondence with the HomePlace residents going.

“Which is exactly what I wanted,” she said. “I wanted them to carry on the conversation and not feel isolated.”

Ball said she planned toreach out to another senior living facility on the island and will need more writers. People interested in writing a letter can contact her at mackenzie.e.ball@gmail.com

Sibylle Tull, a resident at HomePlace, will be among those receiving letters organized by Mackenzie Ball. Photo courtesy of HomePlace at Oak Harbor Memory Care

Sibylle Tull, a resident at HomePlace, will be among those receiving letters organized by Mackenzie Ball. Photo courtesy of HomePlace at Oak Harbor Memory Care

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