Yavapai College Nursing Student and Phi Theta Kappa member Erin Markham found a safe, meaningful way to perform community service during the pandemic. The "message-in-a-bottle" service, as she calls it, has become a beloved pastime and she wants to share it with everyone.

Erin recently launched the "Love For Our Elders Club" at YC so that fellow students, faculty and staff can reap the intangible rewards of creating hand-written notes for isolated seniors across town, across the nation and even around the globe.

In the nursing program, as well as in PTK, students are required to perform community service. Late last year, when the COVID-19 Pandemic was surging, safety was paramount for Erin as she contemplated her options. "Nursing students weren't on the priority list for the vaccine so I was wracking my brain for community service I could do that wasn't also putting my family at risk," she said.

In her research, Erin came across the Cleveland, Ohio-based Love For Our Elders nonprofit organization and, as a solo volunteer, began writing friendly letters to people she didn't know but deeply understood.

"I was a caregiver for numerous years and senior isolation was something that really struck me. I took care of someone for five years who never got a single phone call or visitor. It was really, really, really sad and that was before the isolation brought on by the Coronavirus. So this is a community service that I identify with."

But each letter penned strengthened Erin's conviction to share the Love For Our Elders mission with others. "People need to know about this," she recalled thinking as she wrote dozens of letters to strangers about her cats, the weather and plans for a summer garden. She decided to recruit classmates to join her in her letter-writing endeavor and won permission from the Love For Our Elders organization and the college to establish a YC chapter. Founding club members comprise Erin's fellow nursing students and PTK members. The YC PTK chapter has supported the new club's efforts by defraying all packaging and shipping costs so there is no financial burden for letter writers.

"This is a great way for people to do community service – writing thoughtful, handwritten letters to people to give them some human connection. This is something that will delight someone's day. For some, this may be the last letter they receive so it's really important," Erin said.

Erin grew up in Prescott, attended Orme School and always was interested in a nursing career but got sidetracked with a successful business venture creating costume wigs. "When I had done enough with that, I was ready to move on and do the thing that I originally set out to do – nursing." Now in her second semester, Erin said she is "very much loving" the YC Nursing Program. She said writing anonymous letters to strangers has helped her as a student. "It has become so meditative. When I need a chill moment away from my homework, it's very calming to think about who is going to read my next letter."

To date, the YC Love For Our Elders club has written and shared about 500 letters. The letters are sent to the nonprofit for review before being distributed to senior housing facilities. At least one local senior residential community has signed up to receive Love For Our Elders letters, Erin said. She hopes more get on board. She also hopes to initiate pen-pal relationships within in the club and plans to start putting craft groups together (when COVID-restrictions allow) to decorate envelopes.

Ultimately, Erin said she would be overjoyed if, after graduating from nursing school, she is working in or visiting a local senior care facility and discovers a Love For Our Elders package full of letters waiting to be shared with residents. "What a blessing that would be," she said.

Anyone interested in joining the YC Love For Our Elders club is welcome to email Erin, Interested individuals also are invited to follow the club on Instagram at @loveforoureldersycc.