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Kids creating cards to assure seniors they’re not alone during COVID

Cards for Hope started as a project at one Maple Ridge school – since grown into community venture
What started as a project for Kanaka Creek Elementary kindergarten students has grown into a community-wide initiative of making and giving cards to seniors in local care homes. (Special to The News)

Kanaka Creek Elementary teacher Dawn Flanagan is collecting artwork from Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows students and sharing those cards with seniors – to remind them they are not alone during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Cards of Hope project started as something Kanaka kids and families could participate in, but it grew quite quickly to include the whole district and beyond,” said Flanagan, who’s been a teacher for SD42 for 30 years, 23 as a kindergarten teacher at Kanaka, as well as director of the KC Kid’s Choir.

“It has provided a way for anyone to help a vulnerable senior during the pandemic by offering art and words of comfort,” explained the Kindergarten teacher who started the project at the end of March.

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Today, Flanagan has nearly 80 submissions from artists ranging in age from two to 70 for her Cards of Hope project.

The cards she collects are distributed by email to participating care facilities in the province and the hospital and hospice in Maple Ridge.

Flanagan has invited teachers across the school district to use Cards of Hope as a social emotional learning project with their students.

She has these tips for student card-makers: “The artwork works best in colour with a simple message of hope or encouragement in bold to our seniors, caregivers or essential service workers.”

This week, Flanagan was pleased to learn that Cards of Hope is the recipient of a Neighbourhood Small Grant, awarded by the City of Maple Ridge in partnership with the Vancouver Foundation. In order to meet the criteria for the grant, initiatives had to develop neighbourhood connections/bring the community together.

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“In our case, it was bringing art from the community to the socially isolated. We will use the funds awarded to have a Cards of Hope website, which will be more accessible to schools and seniors’ facilities to interact with.”

To submit a card, email or visit the Cards of Hope Facebook page.


Question & Answer with Dawn:

1. What inspired the idea for this project?

Actually a couple of things… It was our first day of isolation and I was chatting with Sandra Taylor from Westgate Flower Garden. She mentioned that she had been dropping off extra flowers to care homes because seniors were in “lockdown” and unable to see family.

I thought of the quote from Mister Rogers’ mother who told him in scary times “Look for the helpers . You will always find people who are helping.”

There is a measure of comfort knowing that people are helping. There is another measure of comfort knowing you can help… even if it is from the safety of your own home.

Originally the plan was to rally some kids to do some art and drop it off to Sandra at her flower shop to deliver along with her flowers. It quickly became evident that it could be [perceived] as dangerous to bring in paper from outside to some of these care facilities. So I decided to email them instead.

This also allowed me to send artwork to multiple care facilities and allow them to use the art and wishes as they wanted. Some display it on an iPad and take it around to residents in their rooms, some do a slide show on closed circuit TV, others print them out and display on bulletin boards and/or give as gifts.

Many have asked permission to put some of the artwork on their own websites to bring comfort and encouragement to families and staff as well.


2. Did you expect it to grow beyond your own kindergarten kids at Kanaka?

I had a hunch that the Kanaka community would be on board (which they are!).

I hoped that maybe more schools in our district could participate as well (and they have). Terry Fox sigh school’s Grade 11-12 leadership class (Coquitlam) had Cards of Hope as one of their early assignments back to school after spring break.


3. When and how did it extend beyond the boundaries of your own school, and become a community-wide initiative?

Originally, I sent out an email to a few local care facilities to explain what I was wanting to do.

I put it out to my kindergarten families and on our PAC Facebook page.

Within about a week it became evident that Cards of Hope needed a group page of its own.

Because it was a public group, the interest started to extend past our school community.

New members joined every day and submitted artwork (we now have artwork on display from artists aged 2-72).

More care facilities started requesting to be on our mailing list (having heard about it through family members of residents).


4. What seniors homes are receiving these Cards of Hope?

In Maple Ridge: Sunwood, Maple Ridge Seniors Village, Greystone Manor and Chartwell Willow.

We also send encouragement to Ridge Meadows Hospital (via the hospital foundation) and Ridge Meadows Hospice.

There are also participating care homes in Port Coquitlam, New Westminster, Richmond, Surrey, Chilliwack. Osoyoos, West Kelowna, Kelowna, Lake Country, and one in Ontario.


5. Can you share some of the comments you’ve received from the seniors?

“Very much appreciated ! Such talented kids!”( Victoria Heights Assisted Living)

“This is so beautiful. Every word of encouragement, love, and hope goes a long way. We can’t thank you enough, your Cards of Hope go a long way, and definitely connects our residents, Sienna team and family. Our seniors will definitely appreciate such amazing generosity and its moments like this that also pull the communities together.” (Nicola Lodge)

“Wow, this is amazing! I am so touched and feel so lucky that you reached out to us. I am not on Facebook or any other social media so I miss stuff that goes around. Thank you for your kindness and thoughtfulness.” (Chartwell Willow)

“Thank you, what a wonderful idea! I could make a slide show from the pictures and show it in our movie theater. And I can even put a few up in our lobby on the electronic bulletin board. Everyone here is safe and healthy and it would be very nice for the seniors to get some love from outside. Thank everyone for us!” (Sunwood)


6. What other kinds of reactions have you had to the project, from students or parents, for example?

Most people are grateful for an opportunity to help out.

Several children have contributed art a few times now.

Even some parents and grandparents have participated.

I can’t say that I hear a lot of feedback (being in isolation and all) but the fact that people are getting involved is all the feedback that I really need.


7. After you started this, have other teachers or adults come aboard to help you organize it?

A retired teacher colleague has been a faithful encourager to all artists on each Facebook submission.

This in turn encourages others to say positive things as well about the various pieces of art.

Cards of Hope recently received a Neighbourhood Small Grant through the City of Maple Ridge and the Vancouver Foundation. The funds received from that will cover the building of our own website (not built by me) that should be even more accessible to schools and care facilities than the Facebook platform.


8. Has it become a huge project, or still manageable?

It definitely has kept me busy. But it’s a labour of love.

Our mailing list has a growing number of facilities, to which we have sent out close to 80 pieces of art/messages of hope.

The Cards of Hope Facebook Group has about 155 members and also continues to grow.

Now that it’s up and running it’s just a matter of making sure the art gets out to the mailing list, (Usually two to three times per week), thanking the artists and updating the webpage daily.


9. Would you do it again?

Absolutely! Why would we stop? Everyone needs hope!


10. Do you have a parent or loved-one who is in a care home?

I did. My mum was in an amazing assisted living facility for about 15 months. She absolutely loved it there. She died quite suddenly at the end of August last year.


11. Do you have a wrap up date on this, or will you just keep it going on as long COVID keeps seniors shut in?

The neighbourhood small grant covers our website for a year.

If it’s still going strong after that… we’ll keep going.

My feeling is, regardless of whether or not there is a virus… let’s make HOPE viral!


WATCH: Pitt Meadows class unites to send messages of appreciation and encouragement


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What started as a project for Kanaka Creek Elementary kindergarten students has grown into a community-wide initiative of making and giving cards to seniors in local care homes. (Special to The News)
What started as a project for Kanaka Creek Elementary kindergarten students has grown into a community-wide initiative of making and giving cards to seniors in local care homes. (Special to The News)