When COVID-19 restrictions no longer permitted Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) students to meet with Daymark Living residents, Victoria (Tori) Brockinton, a SAGU social work major, began searching for creative solutions.
Daymark Living is a residential community for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and it is also where Brockinton was completing her social work practicum. During her time at Daymark, she was able to connect students at the Waxahachie, Texas, university in her community outreach program called ‘Limitless’ with Daymark residents.
Throughout 2019, Brockinton explained that the ministry team visited with Daymark residents once a week. However, because of necessary COVID-19 precautions and protocols, in-person meetings with residents were no longer feasible in the fall of 2020.
“When I found out my ministry ‘Limitless’ could not go to Daymark in person, I was disappointed,” Brockinton said. “I loved the relationship we had created with Daymark, and I did not want to see that go away. After some brainstorming with some others in community outreach, we came up with the idea of pen pals. It worked out perfectly because Daymark actually already had a pen pal club but was needing new people to write to.”
Through the help of Brockinton and the Daymark staff, SAGU students in the Limitless program continued communicating with the facility’s residents through letters.
Carol Johnston, resident life coach at Daymark Living, founded and currently oversees Daymark’s pen pal club.
“We were very blessed to have Tori join us at Daymark as an intern, and that is when the connection between SAGU and our residents happened,” said Johnson. “Tori would take our letters and cards weekly and connect them with someone interested in our pen pal club. Our residents here at Daymark loved receiving letters from the students.”
Lacey Todd, LCSW board approved supervisor and instructor in SAGU’s Social Work program, shared that Brockinton was the first social work major to intern at this Daymark location.
“Tori worked hard to secure her practicum placement at Daymark…she represented SAGU well,” Todd said.
Even with the pen pal program’s success, Brockinton knew that an in-person meeting was more valuable and meaningful to residents. She strived to coordinate a safe in-person meeting between students and residents of Daymark.
“Because of COVID-19, they (residents) have been extremely isolated,” she explained. “Not even their families could visit until just recently. I had seen some families do window visits and asked if it would be possible for SAGU to do something like this. The staff at Daymark loved the idea, and I started planning.”
Within the same semester of setting up the pen pal program for Limitless, Brockinton coordinated an opportunity for students to speak with their pen pals through a window. She also set up a video chat meeting through mobile devices simultaneously so that the residents and SAGU students could hear each other.
As a senior, Brockinton is excited about the future. She believes that SAGU has equipped her to move forward in her social work career and education as she pursues a Master’s in Social Work degree.
“The (SAGU) social work professors do a good job of showing us how rewarding social work is, but also preparing us for the hard stuff. Our professors are so relational, and I know years from now, I will be emailing them about my social work stories.”
Todd expressed how proud she and other SAGU social work professors are of her during her time at SAGU and Daymark.
“Tori’s actions remind me how we can meet clients’ needs by connecting people together,” Todd said. “This project not only made a difference [for] the Daymark residents, but also impacted SAGU students who were able to give back in this way.”
“I am a big believer in community,” Brockinton said. “COVID has made it so difficult to create community, and I was so honored to get to provide a little SAGU community for the Daymark residents. I left that day with my heart so full! I hope this pen pal experience made them (Daymark residents) feel less alone, and so loved.”
Reflecting on the experience, Todd was encouraged as an educator to see her students take the initiative in this situation. “I am proud of our social work students and their innate ability to see needs and find solutions. It makes me hopeful for our profession.”