GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – After a spur-of-the-moment thought turned into a viral campaign, a West Michigan family is getting more involved in volunteer projects.
Audrey Wendt leads the new organization called “WEcareGR.” They have started a second project called “Make a Friend, Save a Life.”
Organizers connect with nursing homes around West Michigan and recruit volunteers and local schools to become pen pals with residents who may be lonely because of the holidays and the pandemic.
“A lot of them are isolated in their bedrooms or some sort of room or small house, and so they can’t go out and about,” Wendt said. “So, I thought ‘how can we get in there to cheer them up without actually going into the facility?’”
WEcareGR launched during the shocking success of a school supply drive for Buchanan Elementary. Wendt started the drive-in in early October – realizing that not every family can pay for extra school supplies and things needed for the classroom.
“The need is so big right now because they all need individual things, when before they could have a big bucket of crayons. But now they need their own things,” Wendt told News 8 in October.
She talked to teachers at Buchanan and put together an Amazon wish list with the items they needed, and a simple Facebook post brought in more than $15,000 worth of supplies and more volunteers.
“I know that it’s a very dark-feeling time right now with COVID, but it makes it so easy to help,” Wendt said. “There are so many people that want to help and know that there is a need and so many people stepping up. It’s really beautiful.”
Fast-forward to November, and Wendt felt another idea pulling at her heart: nursing home residents forced to forgo visitors during the holidays. What started as a handful of pen pals has now stretched to 10 facilities and nearly 100 residents – including a partnership with several local schools sending art projects to homes.
Wendt is connecting with more nursing home facilities. She says she already has a waiting list of volunteers looking to connect.
“There has been some COVID outbreaks in the nursing homes, so it’s hard for them to get back to me quickly, so we are just trying to be patient. But we know these elderly people need our help,” Wendt said.
A woman named Berta, who lives at Heron Manor Assisted Living in Grand Rapids, says connecting with a new family has been a bright spot for her this year. She has a big family – 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren – but nobody that lives in town.
“I was hoping that it would be a young family. I enjoy children and enjoy so much interacting with them,” Berta said.
She was paired with the Stephens family – a family of four with two young kids.
“What I’m especially happy about, the mother, Kelly wrote such a beautiful note and said how excited they all were to do this. And that made me feel very good,” Berta said.
If you want to get involved with “Make a Friend, Save a Life,” check out the WEcareGR Facebook page.