Park City nonprofit and Utah Strong Recovery Project share holiday joy during the pandemic
Volunteers decorated windows this weekend
Giving a Bleep, a Park City-based nonprofit that raises money for other nonprofits, has brought yuletide joy to residents at the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home with its Give Your Hearts, Not Your Wallet Christmas Day program for the past eight years.
This year Executive Director Annette Velarde assumed the project, which includes playing games, talking and listening to music with veterans who don’t get visitors or can’t leave the facility during the holidays, would be put on ice due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But that wasn’t the case, thanks to Utah Strong Recovery Project, a Utah Department of Human Services program that provides psychological help to those who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Utah Strong recruited Bleep volunteers to decorate residents’ windows from the outside of the veterans home on Sunday.
The veterans home wasn’t the only place the group visited over the weekend, said Briana C. Sisofo, crisis counselor and gerontologist at the Utah Strong Recovery Project.
The other locations volunteers adorned were the Beehive Homes and Elk Meadows assisted living facilities in Summit County and the Inn Between transitional living facility in Salt Lake City, she said.
“We spent between one and a half to two hours at each place, and decorated a lot of windows,” Sisofo said. “We used paint markers that will stay on the windows until they are washed off, and we had to write backwards so the residents could read what we wrote from the inside.”
Volunteers also brought hand-made decorations to accessorize the windows, she said.
“They cut out paper snowflakes and snowmen and other festive items,” Sisofo said.
In addition to embellishing the windows, volunteers were able to connect with the residents of the different facilities.
“We waved to them and talked with them through the windows, which was really fun for us, but also for them,” Sisofo said. “The whole thing was really special.”
Sisofo connected with Giving a Bleep through Velarde’s son, Ruli, who happens to be Sisofo’s fiance.
“We all wanted to give great community members like Giving a Bleep volunteers a chance to do something meaningful and safely during the pandemic,” Sisofo said. “Decorating windows is one of the many community outreach projects we do that provides support to people during the pandemic.”
Other Utah Strong Recovery Project services include a help line that is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., as well as text and email counseling, Sisofo said.
The idea for window decorations came along after Sisofo talked with the nurses, staff and activity directors at the different facilities.
“You could hear how sad they were for the residents who are stuck inside and aren’t able to talk with their families in person,” she said. “The nurses and caretakers try to give them a little sense of holiday spirit by decorating inside, but they only can do so much. So it was wonderful to see how happy the residents were to interact with us when we arrived to decorate their windows.”
Utah Strong Recovery Project also donated coloring and activity books to the residents.
“One of the things that Utah Strong does is help people stay mentally well during the pandemic by socially connecting them with others,” Sisofo said. “And during this holiday season, we want to bring a festive spirit to our communities.”
Velarde said the Giving a Bleep volunteers were more than happy to bring some holiday cheer to veterans and the others during this unprecedented time.
“When you give your time, show up and look into someone’s eyes, even if it’s through a window, the experience becomes more personal than just writing a check for charity,” she said. “We also wanted to hold off that sense of defeat that COVID has brought on to a lot of people, and we felt we needed to hang on to a little bit of tradition we have set over the past few years. This is something we would love to continue expanding on. Hopefully we’ll be able to go inside next year.”
For information about Giving a Bleep, visit facebook.com/GivingABleep. For information about Utah Strong Recover Project, visit bit.ly/2M1y8NT.
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