Gifts await delivery to Westminster Place residents Photo courtesy of Jill Greenman

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Many residents at an Evanston senior living facility are being “adopted” by community volunteers for some extra cheer in the 2020 holiday season.

Westminster Place, 3200 Grant St., which primarily offers independent living, assisted living and memory care services to about 500 residents, has for the past few years had an “adopt-a-grandparent” program in place that connects residents with community members. But that program has taken on extra significance in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In past years, I would ask for the community’s help in adopting a grandparent, so I would send them a name, and they would come and visit, with a gift, which was lovely for many of our residents who are in healthcare [facilities],” explained Activities Specialist for Residential Programming Jill Greenman. “This year, I put an ask out on the COVID support for Evanston Facebook page. I got dozens upon dozens of people who want to adopt which is great.”

Residents of senior-living facilities across the nation have made tremendous sacrifices over the course of the pandemic. Their age cohort is especially at risk for new transmissions and health complications from COVID, and, as such, often have visitations with family and friends limited.

About half of Westminster Place’s residents are in assisted-living and healthcare facilities; they are the primary focus of the adopt-a-grandparent program. For obvious reasons, community volunteers are not having in-person visits with their adoptees this year.

“We usually have lots of stuff going on for the month of December – holiday galas, family coming, music,” Ms. Greenman said. “But it’s quiet right now, and everything we do for the residents is broadcast – we have our own broadcast channel. This is a really nice year to include the community, so that people know that people are out there thinking about them.”

Volunteers receive a resident’s name as well as some pertinent background information to spark gift ideas as well as further engagement.

“I’ll get ideas from the other activities staff, who often know the residents pretty well,” Ms. Greenman added. “They’ll know if someone is, for example, a retired teacher, has a big family, and likes to play bridge. Somebody wrote that a resident ‘loves giraffes.’ I forwarded that, and the family wrote back, ‘Now that’s something to go on.’”

Ms. Greenman noted that, more than the gifts, the residents often enjoy hearing, through letters or online communication, information about the Evanstonians who’ve adopted them.

“We have had been penpals who’ve started over COVID,” she added.  “…They write each other weekly, and it’s been going on for months. My hope is that it’s more than just a gift, that it’s a relationship that starts between the community and the residents, something that they all can look forward to.”

Anyone interested in taking part in Westminster Place’s adopt-a-grandparent program should contact Ms. Greenman at jgreenman@presbyterianhomes.org.