Letter writing may seem like a lost art to some. But students in the Tempe Elementary School District are reviving it, thanks to the program Pen Pals for Seniors, initiated last year by Tempe Elementary Visual Communication Specialist Sr. Amy Garza.
What started as a way of communicating with her grandmother over the years has blossomed into a program that for the last year has been steadily growing, and now involves 110 Tempe Elementary students writing letters back and forth to seniors at three different care facilities in the Tempe and surrounding area.
“My grandmother is in her nineties and always loved writing letters and getting mail. We have always written back and forth, but now that she is older, she can’t write back,” said Garza. “After seeing a news story about a woman who started a similar pen pals program, I immediately connected with the idea and was inspired to carry on my grandmother’s legacy through starting a similar program here for our students.”
In her time outside of work, Garza set up a calendar system to organize the two week pick-up and drop-off cycle. One party gets a letter, writes a response, and returns it within two weeks.
“I love the feeling I get when I deliver the letters. Sometimes I take a peek at them, and I have noticed that even though there may be 70 or 80 years difference between them, they have the same interests and things they like – such as favorite colors, foods, and common activities. They are more alike than they are different,” said Garza.
Garza shared that the program is making a difference for all involved parties. Some seniors are in memory care, and their staff is noticing that it helps the seniors to write letters and remember information.
“Many of our seniors don’t get much interaction with children, and many are lonely. To know they are receiving a letter from their pen pal really gives them something to look forward to,” said Friendship Village of Tempe Activity Director Jennie Mason.
Through letter writing, students are working on improving their handwriting, and their voice and how they speak to others. In addition to working on their writing skills, students are also learning empathy because they really show care and interest in the pen pal’s comments, likes and dislikes, and are learning that forming relationships can take place in the most unexpected ways!
Here is what some students in Nicole Roberts’ first-grade class at Arredondo Elementary shared about the program:
“I like that we get mail and they write to us.” – Taydem
“They are always happy and nice, and like what we tell them.” – Gianna
“They ask us cool questions, and tell us cool things about their life.” – Brandon
One senior participating in the program, Joanne Jordan, smiled when she said that her pen pal asked her to write her letter in her handwriting instead of typing it on the computer, “so she could see her beautiful handwriting.”
Jordan told her daughter in Seattle, who is a teacher, about the program, and she is now considering implementing the program with her own students.
In this technological world of emails, texting, and social media, Garza hoped the Pen Pals for Seniors program would be a simple way to keep the dying art of traditional letter writing alive. There is something exciting about receiving a letter in the mail, and she wanted the pen pals to experience that feeling of eager anticipation.
“I enjoy hearing from my pen pal. It’s so fun hearing the things they say. When you are as old as I am, they bring me back to times when I was that young,” said Senior Pen Pal Vanny McCoy. “And I recently discovered that we both love fried chicken!”
Garza was not expecting the program to grow as it has but is thankful for the impact it is having. Her goal at the end of the school year is for the pen pals to meet in person to see each other face to face. The pen pals at Arredondo are already planning to invite their pen pal seniors to their Valentine’s friendship musical performance!
“You can make a difference. Just by taking a few minutes out of your day to simply talk to someone,” said Garza. “Something that you may not think is a big deal could be a big deal for someone else. Everyone needs a friend and someone to talk to, tell stories, and to share life with. Be that for someone, and you may find an amazing relationship you weren’t expecting.”
Thank you Amy, for creatively promoting that relationships matter, and for connecting our students and local seniors in a positive way! If you are interested in learning more about the Pen Pals for Seniors program, contact Amy via email at [email protected].