When 2020 began, the thought of going through a pandemic was the last thing on my mind!   Like most of you, I was busy preparing for cheer competitions, studying for classes, practicing for my driver’s test, and even dreaming about the possibility of another trip to Disney World for D2 Summit. Then, the world fell apart before my eyes. I quickly learned that my “normal” could be taken away in a second. Those first few scary days revealed just how important family is to me and how often I take the little things for granted…including toilet paper! But even as hard as this was for me and other teenagers, it was even harder on my Papaw who lived in an assisted living home and couldn’t have any visitors. I wanted so badly just to hug him.

Volunteering and helping others has always been taught by example at our gym, so I knew what I had to do. I called a few of my cheer friends and began to make plans to brighten the day of my Papaw and the other residents who were missing out on so much. We may not have been able to go inside, but we could certainly visit through the windows.

When we arrived, we found out that the residents had been asking all day when “the cheerleaders” were coming. They were so excited! We decorated their windows with flowers, pictures of sunshine, and happy messages. It was the most special feeling to remind them that the world hadn’t forgotten them. As we moved from window to window, we found many of them anxiously peeking through their curtains just waiting for their turn. Some were so happy that they began clapping and waving. When we finished our creations, not only did they have the biggest smiles on their faces, but we had the biggest smiles on ours (even if they could not see them through our masks)! Decorating my Papaw’s window with his favorite football team and a Bible verse was my favorite. This was the first time I had seen my Papaw since the pandemic began, so it meant everything to me.

We also painted messages on the front doors and windows for the healthcare workers who are heroes in my book. I have many family members in healthcare, so I’ve seen firsthand how hard this pandemic has been on each of them, especially my dad. He is an RN clinical leader on a hospital COVID floor, so he truly is my hero every time he steps out the door to go to work.

During this pandemic, I hope that each of us can remember to be considerate of others, especially those like the elderly. Some of them don’t even understand why they cannot be visited by their loved ones. I encourage you to think of ways that you can safely bring happiness to your local nursing home residents or grandparents whether it is by writing cards or even just calling to let them know how much you miss them. We’re all in this together, and I’ve learned that the small things we do for others really do matter.

— Elli Buckingham, Bluegrass Cheercats, Royal Sabers