Love by the letter

Handwritten letters are a scarce form of communication in an age of instant connection at the touch of a button. But for residents of Buckner Westminster Place and second graders at Longview Christian School, handwritten sentiments back and forth are building unique intergenerational relationships through a pen pal program.

When school started in the fall, students in Salena Goza, Julie Strait and Michelle Waldow’s classes paired up with 26 residents at the community to practice writing in cursive and learn from their pen pals at the community.

“It is very sweet to see how the students react to receiving their letters,” Goza said. “They experience what it’s like to wait for something patiently and feel the excitement of learning about another person.”

The students wrote their first letters before Thanksgiving and have exchanged them with Westminster residents since. They enjoy sharing stories about their own lives, and in return, learning about the lives of residents at Buckner Westminster Place.

Goza was inspired to start the program by her in-laws who lived at Buckner Westminster Place, as well as members of her church who call the senior living community home. Her original goal was to facilitate the use of cursive, but the idea morphed into an opportunity for the students and residents to create lasting bonds and make a difference in one another’s lives. The first letters included photos and a personal introduction. For residents like Bettye Knighton, this is a fun way to express her story and share it with others.

“It is incredibly rewarding helping these children learn,” Knighton said. “Like me, my pen pal has a twin brother, and it’s sweet to learn about her relationship with him and think about my own twin. I know the ultimate benefit is for the kids, but it’s been so meaningful for all of us too because we get to interact with someone new and share our personal stories. The letters help me reflect on the importance of sharing with my own grandchildren, knowing that I can connect with them in a very similar way.”

Like Knighton, Gail Smith has found commonalities in her story and that of her pen pals. Her letters are addressed to a pair of twins in the classroom, which is especially meaningful to her as her granddaughter will soon give birth to twins. Little connections like these have made each letter more meaningful and special.

“I taught second grade during my first year as a teacher, and this brings back a lot of memories from that time,” Smith said. “As a child, I remember going to a different school about midway through the year and being disappointed the students had already learned cursive. It was always one of my favorite subjects as a teacher and as a student.”

Recently, the residents and students met in person for the first time to celebrate the holidays together. The students and the residents were excited to meet their pen pals and further strengthen the bonds of friendship.

“We’ve enjoyed seeing the joy the residents experience as they write and receive their letters,” said David Sims, executive director of Buckner Westminster Place. “Hand-writing a letter is deeply personal, especially when writing in cursive. Many can agree that it’s a lost art, and we’re humbled by the residents taking the time to help these students learn and develop a new skill. The program is only in its beginning phases, but we look forward to seeing how it will benefit the residents and students at Longview Christian School for years to come.”

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