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Prime Time cover story: Pen pal project unites seniors, kids

Student at Northern Elementary School are excited about their pen pal project. Submitted Photo

We were into the second week of May and the school year was beginning to wind down. It was Wednesday, so I went to Northern School for story time as usual thinking that this visit would be my last, for this year anyway.

School gets a little hectic about this time, and I figure the kids have probably had enough of this story lady anyway. So I planned to wrap things up with one last story and then say "Good-bye and be sure to read lots of good books this summer."

The fourth grade teacher I work with, however, had other plans for me.

"I've been thinking," he said. "Wouldn't it be good if these fourth graders could connect with some senior folks and be pen pals with them for the summer? They could develop a relationship with a nice older person and at the same time be working on their writing skills."

It would be good experience for them. They would complete the whole process: write letter, place letter in envelope, put stamp on envelope and mail letter. And then said teacher asked me, "Do you think we can make this work?"

Well, what would you do? I had to agree that it was a great idea but without my help the plan wouldn't get off the ground. This pen pal project would need seniors and, who knows, more older people than I do. I could see that my volunteering wasn't over yet. I would have to get busy and find 31 senior pen pals who would in interested in writing to 31 fourth graders.

The heat was on. By the following Wednesday the fourth graders would be expected to have their first letters written and ready for me to deliver to their new pen pals. All I had to do was find some willing writers. Well, I am happy to report that what I thought was going to be a tough assignment turned out to be easy and fun! I had all my 31 senior pen pals in no time flat. They loved the idea of connecting with young people. So young and old had their assignments.

When I arrived at school the following Wednesday, there were 29 letters. Two were missing. One little girl said she didn't think she would have time to write letters this summer to which I responded, "All I know is that I have 31 people waiting to hear from you guys, and I won't like telling one of them that they will not be getting any mail."

I had her letter by the time I left school that day. And the last one was delivered to my house about 5 p.m. The mail was ready to be delivered.

So why the urgency? Because we thought it would be fun if the kids could get a letter back from their new pen pal before the end of the school year and even more fun if they could read them together and talk about them.

So I asked the senior pen pals if they could reply to their new friends no later than May 28. I asked them to send their letters back to me and I would deliver them to school. In that way I would know that every child would get a letter.

Now time was really of the essence. But I was in luck. The letters started coming back immediately. They came by car, by bicycle, on foot and by mail. And by May 27, I had every last letter.

The next day I took my basket of letters to Northern School, arrived at the fourth grade door and announced "You've got mail!"

I guess I didn't know what to expect. But those fourth graders surely were excited about getting mail. With all the talking and laughing, I could hardly hear myself as I called out their names. The look on their faces when it was their turn to get their letter was priceless. It was like they were receiving something really special.

When mail call was over and things settled down, someone asked if they would ever get to meet their pen pal face to face?

"Funny you should ask," I said. "How about if we all get together for ice cream sometime in August?"

They all liked that idea. When I was leaving, one little girl slipped me a note with her name and phone number and said, "Please don't forget to call me when you have the ice cream."

And now the "Rest of the Story." With just a few days of school remaining there was yet one more homework assignment.

The kids needed to write a reply to the letter they just received and bring it back to school. Their teacher would look it over and in the mail it would go!

The Pen Pal Project was off to a good start. This summer kids and seniors will have a good time doing something about the "Lost Art of Letter Writing."

If you are interested in being a senior pen pal, contact me.

Ann Daley is a Paul Bunyan Senior Activity Center volunteer.