Pen pals: connecting through correspondence

·2 min read

With COVID-19 isolating many, a new program is starting to connect young and old without newfangled technology through a tried-and-true method: by letter.

The Intergenerational Pen Pal Project, a collaboration between the Strathmore Municipal Library and the Foothills Catholic Immigration Society (FCIS), will match people looking to meet someone new and build a relationship through the mail.

“We thought it would be a fun, COVID-proof way of connecting with other people, and giving us something to look forward to and enjoy this winter,” explained Rachel Dick Hughes, Strathmore library director.

The project was started to fight isolation while connecting young newcomers to Canada to area seniors, explained Eryn Wahl, settlement worker with FCIS.

“The idea for it was as a way of reaching out to others over Christmas, especially people that might be isolated,” she said. “But it’s also a great opportunity for newcomers to connect to Canadians and for them to learn from each other.”

The project aims to connect people across generations, meaning having the old and young write each other.

Providing intergenerational connections is important to newcomers to Canada, especially youth, Wahl explained.

“They might not have grandparents here locally, so we thought that the project would be a nice way for them to connect to some people that also might not have family nearby,” she said.

While the idea for the project was focused on newcomer youth, it has been extended to anyone in the community who wants to participate. So far, about 25 people have registered for the program, said Dick Hughes.

But more seniors are needed to sign up.

“We’ve got a lot of young people, some kids and younger adults, who are looking forward to it,” she said.

The project provides an opportunity for people to connect safely outside of digital or online platforms, explained Wahl. “We thought getting something tangible through the mail would be quite exciting, as we’ve seen that people are kind of hitting a saturation point with digital programming.”

The project requires a commitment of writing one to two letters per month for a minimum of four months. There is also a requirement to keep personal information and letters private, and to be kind and respectful in all communication.

Those interested in participating can fill out an application online, at strathmorelibrary.ca/Program-Pages/Intergenerational-Pen-Pal-Project, or contact the library at 403-934-5440. The library will match each participant, then will send them the mailing information of their new pen pal.

“We decided to keep it simple and not match people by interest or anything,” said Dick Hughes. “I think COVID has taught us that we’re all just people and we can all find something in common to share.”

Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times