When 10-year-old Lily Ichikawa saw an ad that said residents at St. Martha’s Place in Banff were missing visits with people during COVID-19, she wanted to do something to make them happy. So she started visiting residents at the long-term care centre almost every day outside the solarium window in their dining room.
“At first I made signs and did tricks [with string], but I couldn’t get their attention. Then I tried to make some flowers out of origami, and that worked,” says Lily. “It really made me happy when they waved and smiled at me.”
Lily, who recently completed Grade 4, has been visiting residents through the solarium glass since April 7. She makes origami flowers at the window, where residents can watch, and attaches the flowers to the glass for residents to enjoy while they're having their meals. Her friends, Ann, Gaku and Meisa, and sometimes her little brother, Sakuya, come to St. Martha’s with her to wave hello and add their own decorations. Now there's a beautiful garden of paper tulips growing on the window, enhanced by butterflies, fish, frogs and other colourful creatures.
When Lily was first starting the paper garden, she would hold up a sign that said, “I can make a flower” and “Which colour would you like?” Now that the residents know why she’s there, she doesn’t need to use the sign, but she still asks them to pick the colours for the flowers.
“I hold up two different colours of origami paper and let them choose, and it feels like I’m talking to them,” says Lily.
The smiling, waving and gesturing between the children and residents are “quite lovely to watch,” and the visits have an impact beyond enhancing the residents’ dining room, says Lori Thorburn, unit manager, long-term care and allied health. “They show that our seniors are important.”
Lily’s mother, Yukari, also thinks the visits at St. Martha’s are teaching the children how to care for others — life lessons they may not learn in school. “Life is give and take. When you give, a special feeling comes back to you,” she says.
By all accounts, the residents are enjoying the visits. Dianne Hayashi says her mother, Toyo, a resident in the continuing care unit, looks forward to seeing the children every day. “She definitely appreciates the care, that they come to visit and put up the art. It’s just very pretty.”
Lily and Yukari say they'll continue to visit the residents at St. Martha’s as long as the pandemic continues.
“When the residents are happy, I’m happy,” says Lily.