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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex County toddler a light in the lives of seniors hundreds of kilometres away

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- Left: Two-year-old Edison Oak Tiessen receives letters from his senior pen pals.

- Pictured above right are best friends, Chrissy Kelton and Maya Tiessen, at their high school graduation.

Two-year-old Edison Oak Tiessen, of Kingsville, has become a light in the lives of the residents of Chartwell Avondale Retirement Residence in Toronto during the pandemic. 

It all began last May with a phone call between Chartwell Avondale Retirement Living Consultant Chrissy Kelton and Maylin Tiessen, Edison’s mother.  They have been best friends since their first day of Grade 9, at Leamington’s UMEI Christian High School, 20 years ago.

“I’m very close with the residents and Maylin has heard many stories from me about them,” Kelton says. “At the time it had been two months since they had been able to have visits from family and friends and I was trying to figure out something I could do to brighten their days, that they could be engaged in and look forward to.”  

The result is Fridays With Edison, a newsletter sharing the little boy’s adventures, from his first taste of radishes (not a fan) to what he saw on nature walks to becoming a big brother. 

Tiessen sends Kelton photos and notes and Kelton formats them into a polished newsletter to distribute to eager residents. 

40+ issues later, Edison’s fans still can’t wait to read them, each one signed “Love, Edison.” 

“I saw this adorable little mischievous redhead and thought what a doll he was,” says retired schoolteacher Arlene Davis. “People snap those letters up. We want to know what he’s been up to – and he’s always been up to something.” 

Jessie Kerr-Lawson is among six residents who have also become pen pals with Edison, sharing pictures of pets and stories of their own childhoods and life at Chartwell Avondale. 

“The first letter from Edison came at a time when we couldn’t go out of the building. Edison described the things he saw as his mother pushed him along in his stroller. It was almost as if we were going on a walk ourselves,” Kerr-Lawson says. “When Maylin described the things that Edison was learning to do it reminded me of what my brother and I did as children like finding puffballs and red fuzzy caterpillars and how beautiful it was.”

Tiessen is saving all the letters so Edison will understand when he’s older the difference he’s made in the lives of others. And she says that just as he has lifted the spirits of the residents, the residents have also lifted hers as a young mom on maternity leave with now two small children. 

“In a time of such uncertainty and hardship, I think it is so important that we make the following goals a priority, be kind to one another, do our best and take things one day at a time,” she says. “I hope that our letters have inspired and brought joy to even one person. I know I’m very grateful for the impact it has had in my life.”

As soon as it’s possible, she will bring Edison to Toronto for an in-person visit with his friends at Chartwell Avondale so they can meet the little guy they’ve watched grow from a baby into a chatty toddler. 

“It’s going to be incredible,” says Kelton. “I’m emotional thinking about how impactful it will be for the residents.”  

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