MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- If you feel like you need a friend right now, you're not alone. Experts say the isolation caused by sheltering in place can have a real impact on our mental health. If you want to make a connection, a facility for older people in the Valley has a special program for you.
The assisted living center at Fellowship Square Historic Mesa has been on lockdown and with no visitors allowed since March.
“Having to explain why -- it was very hard in the beginning, especially as many of our dear residents have mental issues from their old age like dementia and Alzheimer's,” said Laura Ontiveros, the activities coordinator.
Months without family visits can be devastating. When Arizona’s Family posted an article on Facebook about a pen pal program at a senior facility in another state, we heard about the place in Mesa.
“It doesn't need to be any monumental wisdom,” Ontiveros said. “Just a hello from a real person does real good.”
The coronavirus pandemic has left assisted living facility residents especially isolated as visitor access remains shut down.
The program at the facility includes sending regular letters to residents or making phone calls.
“It's going to help our residents realize that people still do see them and care about them,” Ontiveros said. “Even if they are almost out of sight, out of mind. There is someone out there in the real world that cares about them.”
That feeling can go both ways, even for younger folks. “No matter how different we might be, we have a lot more in common than we think,” Ontiveros said.
There are more than 50 people living in assisted care, Ontiveros said. If you want to become a regular pen pal or phone friend with a resident, you have to fill out an application to be matched by a person. For information, email this address: email@example.com.
They ask you to send a letter at least every other week, and that frequency can change depending on the resident, Ontiveros said.
If you would just like to send a single letter with words of encouragement, you can mail it to the following address: 22 W. 9th Place, Mesa, AZ, 85201.
Ontiveros says they have already gotten some from groups in the area, including balloons to decorate the building hallways.