Remember when the greeting “You’ve got mail!” came from a human letter carrier?
The simple pleasure of sending and receiving old-fashioned letters is becoming a novelty, in this age when e-mail and text messaging are dominant means of communication.
But a pen pals program between mature adults and fourth-grade students from Louisa May Alcott Elementary shows that kids are more receptive to quaint ways and older buddies than one might imagine.
Several years ago, Emily Ehrhorn, a volunteer at the Redmond Senior Center, approached Alcott teacher Donna Staub with the pen pals concept and asked if there was any interest.
“I said I would love it,” Staub replied, “and I can honestly say that this has been one of my favorite programs. It is amazing to see these two generations connect and the excitement generated between them.”
Since January, 23 seniors have corresponded with 23 children every other week.
Volunteer Marie Turner explained, “Our goals are to let young people know we’re active and involved members of the community, ‘not just sitting around,’ to quote (former City Councilmember) Jim Robinson, one of the original pals … and to encourage the dying art of letter-writing, to pass on some of our wisdom and to keep in touch with what today’s children study and dream and do.”
When they first started writing, kids nearly always asked, “How old are you?” and “Do you live at the senior center?”
FYI, the Redmond Senior Center is a community activity center, not a senior residence.
Gradually, questions became more personal, from “What’s your favorite color?” to “What are you doing to celebrate Easter?” Kids also shared news about their classroom routines and asked the seniors what sorts of things they did in fourth grade.
Hearing about the kids’ personal interests and seeing their illustrations was always fun, said Ehrhorn: “They’re smart, they’re funny — and since I was the mail person, I got my fifteen minutes of fame every time I went in to deliver the letters.”
Aside from Ehrhorn, the seniors didn’t personally meet their pen pals until June 3, when they ate lunch and played Bingo together at the senior center. Some parents tagged along, too.
Michele Heidorn came with her daughter Emily, whose pen pal was Ehrhorn.
“I think it’s great that they’re able to connect with an older person in the community, other than a grandparent. And it reinforces the skills of letter writing,” Heidorn said.
It’s expected that the intergenerational pen pal program will continue in years to come.