“Precious Good News”
“At the age of 96 my dad moved from the farm to a senior community,” Bob Helgens, founder of HappyGram! shares. While visiting his father, Vernon Helgens, he would watch other residents check their mailboxes on a daily basis, usually finding the boxes empty. As he sat there he saw the desire for residents to receive traditional notes from loved ones, and yet Bob understood that the younger generations have shifted to communicating with technology. There was a bridge that needed to be built. Gathered around the dinner table, the Helgens family discussed the need and came up with a plan. Individuals could type a note, include a photo, and email it to the Helgens. The Helgens family then formats the notes and emails them on to the retirement community, who prints the note and places in the the resident’s mailbox. “It’s all in the open, like sending a postcard,” Bob explains.
For Vernon’s 98th birthday, the family organized a shower of messages that friends and family typed and sent to the community where he lived. 28 notes were successfully delivered right into Vernon’s mailbox. The waters had been tested and the mission was accomplished. In spring of 2020 the Helgens realized “the time is now”. With loneliness and isolation drastically increasing in retirement centers, the Helgens family (Bob and Mary Beth, with their children JP, Kylie, and Paul) all worked together to make this form of communication possible for more seniors. “More notes to more seniors,” Bob says, this is the goal of HappyGram!. In the last 18 months, HappyGram! has been well-received, with notes being delivered to over 300 communities in 30 states. Initially, the family saw a need and pooled their time, talent, and treasures to meet the need the best they could. Now seeing the positive impact they have made, they desire to keep it going for the long haul.
In order to sustain the mission, they have slowed down a little, giving time to improve technology and create structure in the family business. Originally focused on independent living residents, the benefits have overflowed to the memory care units. “It’s benefiting the seniors and their family members,” Bob explains. Safety concerns and geography both attribute to the challenge of visiting loved ones. Seniors are lonely and family can feel helpless. HappyGram! makes it possible for the granddaughter teaching in China to send a photo and note to her grandmother in Cedar Rapids; other notes coming from Alaska to Illinois, and so on. Happy birthday wishes, baby announcements, thinking of you, all kinds of precious good news is getting to seniors throughout Iowa and beyond.
These notes have been particularly well-received right here in Kalona at Pleasantview Home. Mikayla Fisher, the marketing director at Pleasantview, was familiar with HappyGram! at her last employer and quickly had notes coming in to her residents here. HappyGram! notes are a free service to both the sender and the recipient. To this point, this service has been made possible by sponsors adding to the Helgens’ generosity. Anyone is more than welcome to send a one time donation or become a monthly sponsor. If you have a family name or business that would like to be a sponsor, your name will show up after each note has been sent to the community of your choice. Not sure if your community participates with HappyGram!? Simply select Send a HappyGram!, then click on the state and see the list of communities to choose from. If yours is not on the list you can Request a Community to get involved at no cost to them.
Visit and share HappyGram! with friends and family to help get more notes to more seniors this Holiday season and beyond.