WATE 6 On Your Side Heroes

6 On Your Side Heroes: Letters of Hope project started by Knoxville Catholic students to help others

WATE 6 On Your Side Heroes

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — When the pandemic hit and schools shut down back in March, three students at Knoxville Catholic put their own fear and uncertainty aside and came up with a way to bring joy to seniors in assisted living in our area.

That idea, called “Letters of Hope” now has people all over the world taking part.

A group of KCHS juniors and seniors come bearing handmade, heartfelt messages, taping them to windows at Morning Pointe Assisted Living in West Knoxville, adding a balloon here and there for an extra dose of cheer.

The students are volunteering their time for the Letters of Hope project, started by a special team of three: Seniors Marisa McMichael, a National Merit Commended Scholar,  Fatima Arias-Santiago, and An Doan, an international student from Vietnam.

“We were actually in the same religion class,” Marisa says, “We were brainstorming ways to help our community specifically and when the COVID pandemic happened, we wanted to help a group that was really being affected by it and elderly residents came to mind.”

Fatima told us, “I can’t just be sitting here, just trying to focus on my homework. I have to do something other than that because I’m not the only one going through a rough time during the pandemic.”

The group started writing letters to seniors at area assisted living and dementia care centers and put the Letters of Hope idea on social media, where it took off.

“We created (an) Instagram (profile), we got some followers and then these people found us and thought the program was pretty cool which is really surprising.”

The students knew they couldn’t visit with seniors in person, so they’re working around that; not only becoming pen pals, but even taking time to talk on the phone.

“One elderly resident gave me her phone number so I got to call her. That was really cool, ” Marisa says. “I can only talk to her when she calls me because she has dementia. If I call her, she doesn’t remember who I am.”

A project designed to help others has become an unexpected gift for the students who created it.

“I personally do not know my grandmother,” Fatima says, “because she’s in another country, but just to get to write to somebody else’s grandmother really helped me connect, I guess, internally, to my own grandmother.”

Marisa adds, “I also asked, ‘what’s something you’ve learned throughout life?’ and my favorite response was, ‘to be curious and that life is an adventure of learning.'”

So far, 70 people from Australia to the Philippines to Michigan have become pen pals with seniors in our area because of Letters of Hope.

If you’d like to take part, follow the group on Twitter @lettersofhope2 and on Instagram @knox.lettersofhope

You can also sign up to be a pen pal or volunteer to make signs by emailing the group at knox.lettersofhope@gmail.com

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