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Relationships Matter: Pen Pals for Seniors Program Connects Generations Together

Post Date:02/28/2019

How do you make connections across generations? With a pencil. Some paper. And a desire to build relationships and make new friends. Thanks to the Tempe Elementary Pen Pals for Seniors Program, first-grade students from Arredondo Elementary were given the opportunity to meet their senior citizen pen pals at Oakwood Creative Care Center in Mesa last week for the very first time!

Initiated last year by Tempe Elementary Visual Communication Specialist Sr. Amy Garza, the program has expanded to 110 Tempe Elementary students at Arredondo Elementary, Hudson Elementary, and Ward Traditional Academy participating in writing letters back and forth to seniors at three different care facilities in Tempe and the surrounding area. Garza started this program as a tribute to her grandmother.

“My grandmother is ninety-seven 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.”Amy Garza smiling at seniors

Arredondo first-graders could hardly contain their excitement as they walked into the Oakwood Creative Care facility where their senior pen pals were patiently waiting for them. The meet and greet kicked off with a series of heartfelt friendship songs performed by the first-graders. Students were surprised to find that the seniors had also prepared to sing a couple songs in response.

“This is a wonderful experience for our students,” said Arredondo First-Grade Teacher Nicole Roberts. “They have been so excited to write to their pen pals, so for them to meet them...it made their day and I think it made the seniors’ day, too!”

After the singing performances were complete, students were able to meet as a group with their pen pals. The students also brought Valentine friendship letters for their pen pals to read in person.

“My favorite part about this program is that we all got to meet our pen pal,” said Arredondo First-Grade Student Gavin Lewis.

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.

Four students smiling with senior pen pal“It brings a spot of joy in their day to see what the students have to say in their letters,” said Oakwood Creative Care Creative and Cognitive Engagement Specialist Julie Hatch. “They love to see the pictures that the kids draw. It just brings a smile to their face.”

“It’s nice to receive letters from young people,” said Oakwood Creative Care Member Alfred Ford. “They have a lot to tell me.”

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 more 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." – Brandom

Garza was not expecting the program to grow as it has but is thankful for the impact it is having. Her goal is to continue growing the program and organizing more opportunities for the pen pals to meet face to face!Three students smiling with senior pen pal

“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 amy.garza@tempeschools.org.
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