Pen Pal ProgramsPen Pal Programs

With today’s fast-paced digital communications, filled with the instant gratification of emails and text messages, it’s easy to forget what an important role letters and physical mail once played in the life of an entire generation. The anticipation, the extra effort of going to the mailbox or post office, the surprise of a handwritten letter arriving, and the excitement of what could be inside, were all a part of life for many seniors.

Even today, when many seniors are computer-savvy, receiving a handwritten letter means so much more, especially as they age and have fewer family members, friends, and loved ones out in the world with which to connect. Knowing this, many senior living facilities are implementing pen pal programs to rekindle the tradition of the handwritten letter, reestablishing connections to the “outside world” for many seniors who miss the joy that comes with a delivered letter.

A common recent trend is pairing up seniors with younger local students to be pen pals. Since many of the children do not have living grandparents, they enjoy learning from the life lessons the seniors can offer. Seniors in turn often experience a new enthusiasm for life through the excitement of a younger person’s perspective, questions, and learning, as well as having something enjoyable to look forward to on a regular basis. In addition, students get to develop their writing skills, while seniors can keep their own communication skills sharp. Many of these programs culminate with a meeting between pen pals at the school or the residence at the end of the school year.

How to Start a Pen Pal Program

Starting up a pen pal program at a senior living community can be as simple as contacting a nearby schoolteacher. Setting up a new program typically involves coordinating volunteers from both sides of the process, both within the community and volunteers from the public. When starting up a pen pal program, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Encourage participants to begin by describing the type of correspondence they’d like to send and receive. A letter of introduction to be given to the new pen pal is also helpful to start the process.
  • Keep participant safety in mind, and consider not including last names in the correspondence. Having a single recipient, like the director of resident activities or the schoolteacher, can help maintain some privacy, even though it is most likely unnecessary.
  • Go over the types of topics that are encouraged and allowed, letting participants know that the letters may be read by others than the recipient (especially correspondence with school-age children). Again, these precautions are typically in place to help parents feel more secure about the program.
  • Make a list of topics to discuss in your letters, including hobbies, interests, family, life experiences, interesting memories. Remember to ask questions in your letters to encourage your pen pal to join in the conversation.

Handwritten letters are a tangible way to share old memories and create new friendships. Just like letters of the past keep people connected through war, across oceans, over years, they can continue to engage multiple generations even in this tech-savvy age.

Megan Hammons lives in the Central Texas countryside just outside of Austin, pursuing her love for copywriting after a career in high-tech marketing. She is part of a large, diverse family and enjoys spending time with the multiple generations living in her community.

24 Comments

  1. Laurie February 29, 2016 Reply

    Hello I’m the activity director in a small facility in Beatrice Nebraska. We have only 17 residents all ladies. I want to get a pen pal program started with a few of the ladies and was needing your help.

    • Christine April 13, 2016 Reply

      Hi Laurie
      Found your post on senior advisor.com while looking for a reputable site to find a senior pen pal. I’m a young senior, a volunteer in a large well known hospital on Long Island NY, and active in an elder life visitation program. Would not mind being a pen pal to any of your “heartland” ladies but also realize safety and privacy issues involved.

    • Chelsea July 3, 2016 Reply

      Hello Laurie! I’ve actually been looking for a senior penpal. I don’t know that I could start up a group, but I do have some acquaintances who have penpals already and would probably love to add another.

    • Catherine Quinn October 5, 2016 Reply

      I’m interested in being a pen pal. Email me

  2. vivian pyle July 20, 2016 Reply

    I am an 80 year old who still loves to write letters. My list of people I write to has slowly dwindled down to 3. I live in Florida and still active though need for oxygen keeps me homebound. My daughter suggested I find a pen pal. Snail mail or online.

  3. Terri Stuart August 26, 2016 Reply

    Hello,

    I was wondering if anyone was still interested in being pen pals? I am an activity coordinator for an assisted living facility and I believe the residents would love this! Please let me know if there is any interest. Thanks!

    • Misty September 2, 2016 Reply

      YES! I have been looking for a pen pal group for a while now. I’ve been trying to help my nephew with his reading and I thought letter writing could help more than studying book every could. I just need to know who and where to send. I think I can even get my niece involved and I would
      love to write some too. Please let me know where to send letters. Thank you!

      • Colline January 3, 2017 Reply

        Hi Misty.
        I’m an activity Director at a SNF in NH. I’m looking for Pen Pals for my crowd. We have about 4 people who would be interested in writing. are you still in search of Pals?

        • Katie Lentz January 4, 2017 Reply

          Hi Misty, my name is Katie, I would love to be pen pals with one of your long term residents!

        • Terri July 3, 2017 Reply

          Colline,

          Are you still looking for pen pals?

    • Robin Banducci January 27, 2017 Reply

      Hello Terri,
      I work at a RCF in Bandon Oregon. The AD and I were discussing February’s calendar wondering about pen pals. Do you still have a group of writers available? You can call me at 1-541-347-9497 so we can talk about a plan to match them up or email at robin,[email protected]

      Thanks, Robin Banducci BHC
      West Wind Court 475 4th Street SW
      Bandon, Oregon 97411
      541-347-9497

      • Terri June 20, 2017 Reply

        Robin,

        I apologize that I am just getting back to you. I tried sending you an email but it won’t go through. If you would be willing to, please send me an email at…
        [email protected]

        Thanks!

    • Channing September 27, 2017 Reply

      Hi I would love to be a pen pal!!

  4. Katie Lentz January 4, 2017 Reply

    My name is Katie and I have tons of cards that I have been really wanting to send. A senior pen pal sounds like the perfect correspondent! Please connect me or direct ,e to where I can sign up to be one.

    • pat wright September 15, 2017 Reply

      Could you send one to my Mom?

      She’s 86 with dementia. I visit her twice a week. She wants a caregiver just for the companionship – or a husband.

      Shirley Wright
      1950 Calle Barcelona #125
      Carlsbad, CA 92009

  5. Graham Head February 22, 2017 Reply

    Hi, I am willing to be a pen pal to a senior. I live in the UK, married with adult children, grandchildren, work as a deputy care manager in a care home for deaf/blind. I like snail mail best. Please feel free to email me for details [email protected]

  6. Susanna Scott May 4, 2017 Reply

    Looking for a pen pal for my sweet 84 year old mom. Nearly all of her friends and family have passed and she really misses getting and sending letters.

    [email protected]

    • Channing September 27, 2017 Reply

      Hi I would love to be a pen pal! I’m a 24 year old lady I lost my grandpa recently and it would be nice to talk to someone!

  7. Terri July 17, 2017 Reply

    Still looking for pen pals for seniors at an assisted living facility. Let me know if anyone is interested!

    • Channing September 27, 2017 Reply

      I am interested in being a pen pal to serval people!!

  8. Mel July 28, 2017 Reply

    Hey, l am a student teacher from Germany and would love to be a pan pal to an old person, whom l could help to feel happy and needed.
    Email would also be perfectly okay

    Best regards
    Mel

  9. Cathy Johnston September 15, 2017 Reply

    I am a 71 year-old female whose 93-year-old mother passed away in January of this year. My way of dealing with my mother’s death is to not think about it. I would like to correspond with someone who can listen to my feelings and I can listen to theirs.

    Sometimes you just need to speak with another female to understand what they are going through. I thought this would be a good way for me to express my feelings and hopefully be able to bond with another female.

  10. Nick Budler October 5, 2017 Reply

    Hi Terri,

    Would be happy to snail mail with a senior citizen. I am a 21 year-old living in Indiana. Willing to write to anyone who could use a pen pal to chat with, especially one who has stories to tell!

    Thanks!
    Nick

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