June 10, 2015 – Just two days before the end of the school year, Stacey Gibson’s second grade class had one last field trip to squeeze in before summer break. They came to Diven House at Carroll Lutheran Village to meet the assisted living residents they had been corresponding with throughout the school year.
Earlier in the school year the class read the Berenstain Bears book Think of Those in Need. As a class they decided they wanted to do something to help people. So they reached out to Carroll Lutheran Village to see what they could do. Volunteer Coordinator Maryann Leckron took the idea to Diven House Program Manager Tracy Raymond, and the idea of a pen pal project was formed. The students wrote the first letters introducing themselves to their new pen pals:
My Name is Aidan. What is your name? I love sports. Did you used to be famous in a sport? Could you tell me about your life?
More than 20 students wrote similar letters and were paired with residents who wanted to be a part of this intergenerational project. Throughout the year they wrote to each other, asking and answering questions and sharing information about themselves and their lives.
What a beautiful name for a little girl! My name is Alice and I was born on April 1 (April Fool’s Day, ha-ha).
I’m glad you have two sisters. I had no one but when I grew up and got married I had a large family – three children, nine grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren……
And so it went through the winter and spring. Gibson says the class was excited to receive the letters. “They enjoyed learning about their pen pals, and just having someone to communicate with who wasn’t their family or family friend.”
Leckron and Raymond thought it would be a treat host a social so the pen pals could meet in person. Finally, on that hot, sunny day in June, the two came together.
After being paired with their pen pals, the groups did a craft together, making seedling pots that the children were able to take home with them. They had lunch together, and after lunch, the students had the opportunity to play a little beach volley ball in the courtyard (it was two days before the end of the school year – energy was running high!) while residents watched. Then it was back inside and the students took turns performing readers’ theatre that they had been working on in class.
For two pen pals, the day was bittersweet. Roger Meyers and Rose Pugh passed away before they could meet their pen pals. Roger’s son Jason and Rose’s daughter Diane came in their places to meet the two young people their parents had been corresponding with.
Jason found the letters from pen pal Zoe while cleaning out his father’s suite after his death. He says Zoe answered every one of Roger’s questions, and he was thrilled to stand in for his father to meet her.
Gibson says she wishes that the children stay in touch with the pen pals through the summer and into the third grade because they want to – not because it’s a class project. “It’s truly been an amazing experience.”