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Penpals

Third graders bond with Oak Crest volunteers through letter-writing

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December 12th, 2011

While Facebook and email have hooked millions of Americans, Mildred Jordon enjoys keeping in touch as she always has, the old-fashioned way, with handwritten letters. As a young adult I lived about 25 miles from my mom and dad. I saw them every weekend, but I still always wrote them a card or letter in between visits, says Mildred, who now lives at Oak Crest, an Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md. During the war I also wrote my husband [fianc at the time] every day, she says. An Ohio native, Mildred remains pen pals with her brother and sister, who both live in the Buckeye state, as well as classmates from back home, and her son and daughter-in-law who reside in Connecticut. So when she heard about a pen pal program between Oak Crest volunteers and a local elementary school, it seemed like the perfect fit. I ve been volunteering with the pen pal program for the last three years, says Mildred. This year I have three third grade pen pals: two little boys and a girl. The program, which began in December 2007, pairs Oak Crest residents with students at Deep Creek Elementary School in Essex. The pen pals participate in a biweekly letter exchange that begins each October.

Art of written language

The pen pal program is part of our regular written language curriculum and gives our students a real-world application of their skills in writing, handwriting, correct grammar, and spelling, says Debra Thissell, a school social worker who heads the program. In this age of instant messaging, texting, and tweeting, our children benefit greatly from practicing letter writing as well as the joy of receiving a letter from a caring adult, says Thissell. The children get very excited about writing to their pen pals and love to read their letters, she adds. It allows them to form intergenerational relationships and gets them excited about reading and writing. It also ties in beautifully with one of our goals to engage parents, guardians, business, and community members in the educational process. Oak Crest Volunteer Coordinator Alison Krull is the liaison for the group currently made up of 25 Oak Crest volunteers. The volunteers are excited to share their life stories with the students and equally as excited to hear about the lives of the youth today, says Krull. The students begin by writing a letter talking about their hobbies, the holidays, what they are learning in school, and so on. What starts as a basic letter exchange evolves into our volunteers including photos of their world travels or a small sample of something they ve knitted.

Intergenerational exchange

Oak Crest volunteer Florence Knox, a retired registered nurse and grandmother of five, finds that the pen pal program indulges two of her favorite things. I love children, and I love to write letters, says Florence. I thought this would be a great opportunity to get to know some of the elementary school kids. Great grandmother and Oak Crest volunteer Dolly Nemec has been an elementary school pen pal for five years. This year she writes to five Deep Creek Elementary school kids. Kids have always been a part of my life in one way or another, she says. It s something simple for me to do, and I feel like they really enjoy it too. The pen pals have an opportunity to meet one another twice throughout the school year once in February when the volunteers travel to the elementary school for lunch with the kids, and at the end of the school year for a celebration lunch at Oak Crest. The children are so delightful, says Dolly. They laugh and hug you. What always tickles me most is almost every year when we meet, one of our pen pals will turn to the other and say, she doesn t look so old.

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