Fundraiser brings tablets to nursing homes



Courtney Vennekotter has seen the photos of loved ones standing outside nursing homes, pressing their hands against windows and speaking through see-through barriers in a time of boundless unknowns.

Senior living facilities throughout the country have closed their doors to the public in recent weeks. This physical separation of residents from their friends and families are part of precautionary measures taken to keep the elderly healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vennekotter knows emotional detachment can be painful for those on both sides, so she is now raising money to bring them back together.

On April 3, she launched a GoFundMe page — its description details how she hopes to “start a program to distribute iPads/Chromebooks among the nursing homes of Dubois County and perhaps surrounding counties, if the funding is great enough.”

“When I heard that visitation was limited in the nursing homes, I thought it would be a good idea to actually raise the money for devices,” Vennekotter, who was raised in Jasper, explained in a Wednesday phone interview, “so that the residents of the nursing homes would be able to talk to their loved ones in an easy manner.”

She got the idea from her college coursework. The 19-year-old is a pre-medical student at Butler University in Indianapolis, and her own participation in online classes showed her just how simple virtual communication can be.

It’s her goal to share its accessibility with others by bringing technology into nursing homes throughout the area to allow residents to use video software to talk freely to those living in the outside world. She’d raised $910 of her mission’s $10,000 goal by presstime today.

Wednesday afternoon, Vennekotter dropped off her first delivery at St. Charles Health Campus in Jasper when she gave two, 2-in-1 tablets with detachable keyboards to the staff.

Sherri Byers, St. Charles’ director of life enrichment, said the devices are needed. The facility had just two tablets that were used for outside communication before Vennekotter dropped off the new devices.

“We’re happy to see that someone is choosing to make a difference,” Byers said. “Outside of our campus, out in the community, still wanting to make a difference and enrich the lives of our residents, and assure that they have that avenue of continuing that communication and that relationship with their family and with their loved ones. ”

Vennekotter doesn’t have a relative in a nursing home, but she knows how important it is for those inside to stay in touch with the ones they love.

“I think that it’s important because during this time of isolation, we all need each other, even though we’re social distancing,” Vennekotter said. “So, I feel like we just need a support system during this time. Especially the people in senior living homes.”

Her goal is to give three or four devices to each nursing home in Dubois County as well as those in surrounding areas. Those wishing to donate to Vennekotter’s cause can do so here.

All funds will be strictly put toward the electronics and hardware for the nursing homes, and every person who donates will receive an updated newsletter showing the outcomes of their donation.

Vennekotter understands money is tight for some as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on livelihoods, so donations of iPads or tablets that still work but aren’t being used are also accepted. Her plan is to continue her fundraising and distribution campaign through the summer.

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