Ashiana Sunderji

Inspired by the Social Diversity for Children Foundation, Ashiana reached out to the Leisure Buddies team at the City of Port Coquitlam to put together a virtual pen pal program. As a leisure buddy for the city and best buddy at her high school, she understood the value of these programs and the connection that was missing because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the inability to visit with children in person. Ashiana implemented the virtual pen pals in 3 capacities, one through the City of Port Coquitlam, one through the Best Buddies program at her high school and one at her work Kids First Physiotherapy. She assembled a group of volunteers that regularly interacted with the kids who wished to receive letters to connect with the children. Since it was a pilot program, the consistency and engagement varied amongst each pen pal but the interactions looked like video calls on Microsoft Teams, back and forth emails with photo updates of what they were up to each week, working on a virtual activity together – a colouring book page or a time capsule questionnaire, or simply the volunteer sending out a letter once a week just so that the child felt connected to something outside of their house. This was a simple but effective way that they were able to form a community during a time where connection was scarce. Ashiana was paired up with a buddy herself and made sure to send letters with lots of information about herself and what she was doing to keep busy, asking questions about the child and sending lots of photos of different recipes she had been trying.