Isolated in their rooms and unable to have face-to-face visitors, senior living residents are by far one of the most severely impacted populations by the coronavirus pandemic.

Complicating matters are rising costs of senior care and increased vacancies that have financially hobbled senior living establishments so they are unable to provide as many personal touches to their care programs as they normally would, especially during the holiday season.

Thanks to the compassion of several WSU Carson College of Business students, more than 60 senior living residents in several communities managed by Era Living are receiving a series of personalized cards and a bookmark to lift their spirits and let them know someone is thinking about them during the holidays.

The vision for the holiday card campaign belongs to Crystal Campbell, an accounting student at WSU Vancouver. Campbell said her idea occurred while attending the WSU Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living seminar series “Leaders LIVE!” featuring senior living industry professional Marla Becker.

Becker, the executive director of Aljoya Mercer Island, oversees the operations of Era Living that consists of eight communities of seniors. Jenni Sandstrom, assistant professor of hospitality at WSU Vancouver, invited two of her classes to attend to give students an inside perspective on how operations have changed during COVID-19.

“When I heard Marla say increased expenses had made it prohibitive to do anything special for residents during the holidays beyond small gifts, I thought of my grandmother, who recently passed away,” said Campbell. “She absolutely loved getting cards and always hung them up as part of her holiday decorations.”

Two women make holiday gift cards.
Kathy Markham, left, and her daughter Crystal Campbell, a WSU Vancouver business student, working on the holiday card campaign. Photo courtesy of Crystal Campbell.

Campbell envisioned a holiday card campaign as an inexpensive way to enrich the lives of Era Living residents and reached out to other students to participate. She ended up with 34 volunteers, including seven students and two faculty from WSU Vancouver, she said. With Becker’s help, she developed a questionnaire for the residents in eight Era living communities to gauge interest and collect information to personalize the cards.

Each resident will be receiving a hand-made bookmark and 16 cards during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

“Humanity is the most important characteristics that anyone can possess,” said Viktoriya Shapaval, an accounting senior. “A little communication in the form of cards from the outside world would make the retirement community feel loved and know that we think of them. By making these cards with my kids, I hope to teach them this value by setting an example of doing right.”

“I love being able to just make someone smile,” said Emily Antos, a senior majoring in hospitality business management and psychology. “Creating value in someone’s life is important to their well-being, in the sense that you have made an impact in their lives, but it also helps you feel a sense of purpose.”

Campaign reflects values and skills taught in class

The students’ sentiments are in line with several learning goals Sandstrom expects her classes to achieve, such as the ability to work in teams, understand measures of service quality, and develop self-awareness leading to a better understanding of human interactions and the impact of an individual’s behavior on others.

“What started as a good will activity is actually reflective of the type of leadership, creativity, and interpersonal skills we want students to develop in preparation for their business careers,” said Sandstrom. “Partnering with Marla to help alleviate seniors’ sense of isolation also provided students with a clear example of a healthy balance betweenpersonal and corporate ethos.”