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Lights of Hope 2020.
Seniors + Healthy Aging

Saturdays with Fanny


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Fanny Cheng.

On the surface, reading to someone is a simple act of kindness. But for seniors in long-term care during a pandemic, reading is the precious gift of time, companionship, and hope.

Fanny Cheng loves volunteering with the seniors in long-term care at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital (MSJ). For more than three years, she accompanied residents on field trips, helped with speech pathology and range-of-motion exercises, and pitched in whenever there were special celebrations.

So it was no surprise that she said “sure!” when one of the RAs asked her if she would read the newspaper to the residents. “I thought it was a great idea because I speak Cantonese and so do most of our residents,” says Fanny.

She was nervous at first, sitting in front of a room full of people with all eyes – and ears – on her. “Then it occurred to me: they’re just like my own parents and grandparents,” Fanny says. “If I was with my Popo (Chinese for Grandma), what would we talk about?”

That’s when the sessions really took off.

Extra, extra, read all about it

It turns out, the residents weren’t interested in hearing about news or politics. “My Popos love to hear what’s on sale at the supermarket,” Fanny says. So she tells them about the week’s fruit and seafood and dim sum specials. And soon, they’re all chatting and laughing and sharing stories.

The Popos are transported back to the days of cooking and preparing meals in their own homes. They talk about what dishes they would make with those ingredients. And who would be there to enjoy the food with them.

“Caring for their families was an important and beloved job for these ladies. They love reminiscing about it. And I love going on that journey with them.”

Finding a new normal

When the pandemic hit and precautions meant volunteers could no longer be there in person, Mary Gallop, MSJ’s coordinator of volunteer resources, teamed up with the rehabilitation staff and approached Fanny with an idea. “They asked me if I would consider doing virtual visits over Zoom.” Fanny had never done anything like that before but, of course, she was keen to try.

“I said yes and then immediately went to Google and YouTube to learn how,” she laughs.

Fanny was a quick study and for the last nine months, the Saturday sessions have continued to bring their cheerful routine to the residents (and to Fanny).

At first, there were a few kinks to work out so that everyone could see and hear and chime in. But the virtual visits have been a big hit. “We’re having a great time. And just like before, they’re definitely not holding back their opinions and comments!”

Fanny has even welcomed a new participant. “I noticed that there was a man sitting way in the back during our calls.” Working with the rehab staff and care aides on site, Fanny was able to bring him out of his shell. “Now, he sits right up front and joins in with the rest of us!”

To keep things fresh, Fanny picks a different background or a different place in her house so the residents don’t get bored. And in between talking about the latest door-crasher, she uses their time together to encourage her audience to keep up with their exercises and to stay healthy.

“I’m just so glad and so appreciative that I’ve been able to play this small part in keeping our residents upbeat and engaged!”

A special message from Fanny

Your gifts to St. Paul’s Foundation are the reason we have iPads, speakers, televisions, and all the things we need to connect with our residents and keep their spirits up. I have the privilege of seeing the impact of your donations on our Popos and Gung Gungs. They are more engaged, active, and healthy thanks to the support of donors like you! Please join me to brighten the lives of our most vulnerable residents: give today.

Fanny Cheng