“If there’s a silver lining to what’s going on right now, it’s that senior issues have finally been brought to the forefront.”
So says Valerie Syratt Luttrell, founder and one-woman powerhouse behind Newmarket-based volunteer group The Grandparent Connection. As someone who has devoted seven years to increasing awareness of seniors’ issues, 2020 has been a “hard, hard” time.
“I would love to know that the concern for seniors right now isn’t a one-off,” said Syratt Luttrell. “I hope the attention and care will continue, and that seniors aren’t forgotten again.”
Thanks to the efforts of The Grandparent Connection, seniors in Newmarket have access to community-based programs that can help alleviate feelings of loneliness, isolation, and unwantedness- underreported issues, Syratt Luttrell knows, that often arise with old age.
Particularly successful programs run by The Grandparent Connection throughout its seven years in operation include Stockings for Seniors and Birthday Bags, holiday gift-giving events for seniors, as well as a greeting card program, which promotes senior inclusion through deliveries of personalized greeting cards.
Generation Partners, a program connecting seniors in retirement and long-term care homes with elementary school students, has also been a success.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions on long-term residences has seen the cessation of most programs. With demand for senior supports higher than ever, Syratt Luttrell has had to adapt.
“Because most long-term care homes are not accepting donations right now, what we’ve started to do is look for donations for the workers in these homes. They don’t have support like the hospitals do, and they need it even more,” said Syratt Luttrell.
“We’ve also updated our website to promote what’s needed at local long-term care homes right now, and are offering to connect people who want to help with long-term care homes that need help. We’re trying to act as a go-between to make things happen.”
Adjusting to a new normal is not the only thing on Syratt Luttrell’s plate. She has recently wrapped up The Grandparent Connection’s first online-only Old Fashioned Christmas Craft Show, an annual event that raises awareness of seniors’ issues.
Balancing a full-time job alongside volunteer work can get “busy”, Syratt Luttrell says, but knowing she’s making a difference in the lives of seniors makes the effort more than worth it.
A volunteer to the core, Syratt Luttrell is also on the board of directors of long-term care advocacy group Concerned Friends.
“Having a senior know someone is thinking of them is the best reward. It’s saddening to think of those in long-term care who have no one, get no visits, get no cards or presents. It doesn’t sit right with me; it doesn’t seem fair. I do what I can to brighten their day.”
Founded in 2013 after Syratt Luttrell’s requests to join similar volunteer groups in the area went unanswered, The Grandparent Connection’s first act was the delivery of gifts to 13 lonely and rarely visited residents of Newmarket Health Centre.
Syratt Luttrell’s now 96-year-old mother, Joan, knit special blankets that were delivered alongside them. Though they’ve come far in the last few years, expanding their services and growing their events, The Grandparent Connection is as tight-knit as ever.
While the group relies on volunteers for donations of cards, gifts, and- on occasion- time, Syratt Luttrell continues to do most of the work herself.
“I do keep busy, and some days it seems like I have too much on my plate. But, at the same time, I get so much out of being able to help. It’s very rewarding.”