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Pen pal program for nursing home residents gets a boost from Katie Couric

The former TODAY co-anchor is one of thousands of people who have lifted the spirits of a group of nursing home residents by becoming their pen pals.
/ Source: TODAY

A group of nursing home residents asking for letters to help lift their spirits during coronavirus lockdown has a new advocate in Katie Couric.

The former TODAY co-anchor joined in giving the residents of Victorian Senior Care in Asheboro, North Carolina, a boost on Thursday when she promoted their pen pal program on Instagram.

"This is such a great idea! If you love sending snail mail - this post is for you!" she wrote. "Victorian Senior Care, a retirement and assisted living home in Asheboro, NC, started a pen pal program for friends to write to their residents and residents of other assisted living centers in the area."

The program began a few weeks ago at all 14 Victorian Senior Care locations in North Carolina and has already become a huge hit with the residents and their new pen pals.

"We've had an extraordinary amount of people reach out," Gwen Shough, a medical technician supervisor at the Asheboro location, told TODAY. "We've had residents get letters from 48 states in one day. It's amazing."

The #VSCPenPals program has residents put photos on Facebook asking for pen pals and listing their particular interests so they can share them with people eager to write to them.

"The residents are loving it," Shough said. "They're just astonished about how many people are responding so quickly and from so many different states."

The nine residents participating in the program at just the Asheboro facility alone have each gotten thousands of letters.

Nursing homes across the country have been overwhelmed by COVID-19, which health experts say causes the most severe complications in seniors and those with underlying conditions.

Many nursing homes have tried different programs to lift the spirits of their residents on lockdown, whether it's been allowing therapy dogs outside the windows, bringing in celebrity bingo hosts like Prince William, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Matthew McConaughey, or encouraging others to send cards.

Strangers reaching out with kind words has definitely helped the mood at Victorian Senior Care's facilities, which is not allowing visitors outside of essential medical personnel due to the coronavirus.

"They're cooped up in here, and they can't see their families because of this whole coronavirus mess that's going on, so this allows them to communicate with different people who have the same likes they do," Shough said.

"It's just brought their spirits and their attitudes completely 180 degrees because they're getting to communicate with other people besides just the people that are here and work here."

People also have been sending gifts to the residents in addition to letters, according to Shough.

"It's like a relationship they're building with other people,'' she said. "They've already got all their stamps ready to write people back."