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Garbage night about to change lives for isolated Cape Breton seniors

Jenn Sheppard, centre, of New Waterford, performs during a recent "garbage night" live streamed on Facebook with daughter Jordyn Crocker, left, and husband Stephen Muise. Last Thursday the event raised more than $14,000 for iPads for seniors in nursing homes. CONTRIBUTED
Jenn Sheppard of New Waterford performs during a recent "garbage night" live streamed on Facebook with daughter Jordyn Crocker and husband Stephen Muise. Last Thursday the event raised more than $14,000 for iPads for seniors in nursing homes. CONTRIBUTED
NEW WATERFORD, N.S. —

What started as online entertainment for an isolated community is now helping seniors in nursing homes across the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Jenn Sheppard said last Thursday her family's "garbage night" was live streamed on Facebook and raised more than $14,000 which will be used to purchase iPads for seniors in nursing homes. The business community has also joined the initiative and she hopes that with tonight's event they will go over the $30,000 mark.

Many seniors in nursing homes, who are in isolation due to the province's COVID-19 restrictions, have no way to communicate with their families.

“There’s a lot of family members who are completely shut off, there’s people with dementia and Alzheimer's and people passing away who don’t have anyone with them,” said the New Waterford resident. “Hearing this, it broke out hearts.”

Sheppard, a songwriter and performer, daughter Jordyn Crocker, a Grade 12 student at Breton Education Centre as well as a singer, songwriter and performer, and husband Stephen Muise, music teacher and band director at BEC and conductor of the Men of the Deeps, have often held a "garbage night" at their home. The task of putting garbage out to be collected has been followed by an informal music jam which often includes performers who just drop by for the weekly tradition.

After the Nova Scotia government declared a state of emergency on March 15, people on social media began live streaming performances to provide those in self-isolation with some entertainment.

Two weeks ago Sheppard said her family live streamed their first "garbage night" from her Facebook page.

More than 1,000 people tuned in and Sheppard decided they could do some good and collect donations for Breton Education Centre 2020 grads, raising $1,200. The following week they raised around $1,500 for palliative care in Cape Breton.

Last Thursday they decided to raise money for iPads for seniors in nursing homes.

“It went crazy," Sheppard said. “We thought we were going to maybe raise enough money to get three or four iPads. We raised $14,000-$16,000 and we’re doing it again (Thursday) and are hoping to double that and be able to get 50 iPads.”

Sheppard said they were so busy performing they didn’t realize Katherine van Nostrand of the Keltic Group was watching the live stream and was challenging other businesses to match her $1,000 donation.

“We couldn’t really read the comments while we were doing the show,” Shepherd said.

Van Nostrand was also calling other business people encouraging them to watch the performance.

Sheppard said before they knew it Mercer Fuels and MacLeod’s Fuels both rose to the $1,000 challenge. Then van Nostrand announced she was donating $2,000 and Seaside Communications upped the ante and donated $5,000.

“It just kept going from there,” Sheppard said.

“Katherine and her husband are so open and giving and just want to do good in our community,” she said. “They were the first to jump on board with us because they have a connection, they have elderly family who are isolated.”

Community leaders urged them to hold another live stream event to raise even more money for iPads.

Kendra Baldwin, executive director of the Maple Hill Manor in New Waterford, shows resident Frank Gaudet how to use an iPad. The manor has one iPad for 63 residents who are now in lockdown due to COVID-19 restrictions. Entertainer Jenn Sheppard and her family of New Waterford have raised more than $14,000 to buy iPads for nursing homes through their live streamed
Kendra Baldwin, executive director of the Maple Hill Manor in New Waterford, shows resident Frank Gaudet how to use an iPad. The manor has one iPad for 63 residents who are now in lockdown due to COVID-19 restrictions. Entertainer Jenn Sheppard and her family of New Waterford have raised more than $14,000 to buy iPads for nursing homes through their live streamed

“They think it’s such an important cause and that we can double it,” she said. “We are also in contact with a local supplier who is trying their hardest to get us the best deal possible.”

The idea to purchase iPads originally came from Kendra Baldwin, executive director of the Maple Hill Manor in New Waterford.

Sheppard said she and Baldwin were talking about how the government was going to purchase iPads for nursing homes to help seniors deal with the isolation.

“She told us it’s great but there’s a long process before they get them,” Sheppard said. “In the meantime there’s a lot of family members who are completely shut off from (seniors) with no way to communicate."

In talking to Baldwin, Sheppard said they discovered there was a need for an iPad in each unit because individual units can be shut down if someone is ill.

“If the iPad happens to be on that floor, it’s not going anywhere.”

The iPads will be distributed to nursing homes and small hospital units where seniors are isolated.

The live stream event today will begin at 7 p.m. and can be accesssed at at https://www.facebook.com/sheppard.jenn.

Baldwin said Maple Hill Manor, like all nursing homes in Nova Scotia, has been on lockdown since March 15.

“Our residents have had no contact with their loved ones since then,” she said. “We’re seeing our residents are depressed, they’re isolated, our staff are working hard to keep their spirits up.”

Baldwin said their residents simply don’t understand why they can’t see their loved ones. Some families have stood outside the windows to do window visits.

“They want to see their loved ones so dearly and don’t understand why they can’t come into the building to see them.”

Baldwin said right now there is one iPad at the manor for 63 people.

“Staff have been phenomenal, they are allowing residents to use their cellphones,” she said. “Some days we have an iPad and four cellphones on the go because we’re trying the best that we can to connect our residents with their loved ones.”

Baldwin said they are excited to receive more iPads.

“We’ve had some really beautiful moments with our iPad, just having that technology in the building would allow for much more visits.”

Maple Hill Manor resident Frank Gaudet, formerly of Sydney, misses his wife Connie and daughter Mary. Mary had asked family and friends on Facebook to send messages to Frank, which she showed him during a window visit.

“I was reading the messages to him,” Baldwin said. “More technology in the building would allow Frank and Connie to visually connect daily.

Gaudet said he misses spending time with his family but understands the situation.

"They have to follow rules everyone else follows,” he said. “It's serious stuff because it’s globally all across the planet.”

Gaudet said it has been about two weeks since he has been able to visit with his wife and daughter and was grateful for the window visit.

“I thank Kendra for organizing everything including our daughter and my wife to come to the window,” he said. “It was good to see them.”

In the meantime, he’s keeping his spirits up.

“You have to think positive, there’s nothing else to do but think positive.”

Baldwin said the iPads will change everything for the residents by connecting them with their families.

“Frank will be able to go on Facebook and see what Connie is up to.”

Sheppard said although her family is hosting "garbage nights" there are many people who are involved and a big part of raising the necessary funds.

“It really hit home, the impact this is having on our families,” she said. “People are just broken because they can’t see their loved ones. If this helps at all, it just makes our hearts fill."

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