Letter Writing, Find Senior Pen Pals
Letters as an Antidote to Loneliness
Loneliness is endemic among the elderly of our society. Many of our elderly population, those in facilities and those who have lost family and friends, struggle with loneliness. One way some creative and industrious folks are combating that is through the old system of pen pals. I had a pen pal in grade school. I remember exchanging letters with a boy I met at camp one year. We were simply friends—no romantic interest. I was always a bit intimidated to reply because he had the most elegant handwriting I’d ever seen. I’m still amazed by it. I have no idea what ever became of him.
When my daughter was in junior high, her class partnered with younger children in an at-risk school in a pen pal activity. It was a great letter-writing experience that ended in sending cookies and finally a party. They only exchanged first names as the respective teachers sent the letters en masse to each other, but I can still remember the beautiful smile of my daughter’s pen pal. I still have a photo somewhere–if only I could find it!
This is not my original idea. I read about it here: https://www.caregivers.com/blog/2016/04/become-a-pen-pal-to-a-senior/
I think it’s a great idea. Teachers and parents, do you have kids that need to learn communication skills, grammar, handwriting, and the social skills of letter writing? What better way to learn than writing to a senior. Not only will your kids learn writing skills, they will learn history. Seniors are a great repository of history.
The article from the Caregivers.com website suggests contacting a local assisted living facility activity director. You can also contact senior centers or nursing homes. The Activity Director at the facility will know which residents can take part and which are most in need of social contact. There are online pen pal sites for seniors. I don’t know much about them but I suspect having a contact at a facility might be a better way to go. Seniors are vulnerable. They sometimes give out too much information and even like to give money away without much understanding of the recipient. Having a go-between might be safest. Though if you are really inspired and ambitious you could start your own program figuring out a way to protect vulnerable seniors.
started a pilot program matching seniors in Portland, ME with students learning English in San Paulo, Brazil. An organization in the U.K., pairs elderly writers with other elders at sister facilities. In the US many facilities are multi-state “chains” so the facilities are interconnected. I know activity directors in senior facilities network and are always looking for new ways to keep seniors engaged. It doesn’t seem a stretch to imagine they could help connect you with local residents or residents in other states.
Support with Supplies Included
Domtar, a paper-making company, is sponsoring a letter writing project to connect students with the elderly. (This is actually funny to me as my husband and my father worked on and visited the plants they mention before they were sold to Domtar. So place names like Rothschild, WI are familiar to me.)
Obviously, since they make paper, they have an interest in people using it. They cite studies on the benefits of handwriting in the promotional literature about their program. Many of the studies are about the benefits of children and handwriting but studies about the cognitive benefits for seniors appear also. They have a video about their program as you can see below.
Another way to connect with seniors is through your church organization. Many churches have members who due to age or disability can no longer attend services. Those seniors love getting cards and letters.
What Have We Got to Lose?
My parents always enjoy cards and letters from friends. My mom never learned to use a computer. She’s puzzled by text messages and even emails. She’s familiar with the newsy length and style of handwritten letters. When I try to explain a text that is only one line, she thinks I’m omitting parts of the message. She just cannot grasp the point of short messages.
You may wonder, what would I say to a senior in a letter? Just about anything! Tell them about yourself, where you live, your family, your pets, the weather. Steer away from politics, money and religion (unless you are writing to your church family, then religion is OK). General rules that apply in most social circumstances, such as a business climate.
It seems like a win-win to me. An opportunity to encourage and lessen the loneliness of a senior and to learn the skills and creativity of writing. Seniors love artwork and pictures to hang in their rooms. Knowing that someone cares enough to take the time to write a letter or make a card can put a smile on a senior’s face. Don’t you think it’s worth it? Have you participated in a letter writing program or had experience pen-paling with someone? What did you learn? I love to hear about your experiences.
Have a good caregiving day,