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.

16 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.

  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!

  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.

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