Pandemic Pen Pals: Making New Friends the Old-fashioned Way

You open your mailbox to find an unexpected card. Not a quick text filled with emojis or a piece of junk mail, but a handwritten note from a real human that you can hold in your hand. You know the feeling – most likely once a year on your birthday.

Except for those special occasions, it seemed the days of correspondence via snail mail was a relic of the past. But in the age of social distancing, handwritten notes and cards are back and more meaningful than ever. In fact, pen pal programs have been popping up across the nation.

At LADD, we launched our Pen Pal Program in May as a way for both people supported by LADD and community members to meet new people and connect on a regular basis during the pandemic.

Every few weeks, Beth Wayman and Susie Prigan, roommates in LADD’s Community Supported Living Program, exchange postcards and art with their pen pals. Susie’s pal is LADD Change Manager Hannah Eldridge, who has been working remotely.

“I have enjoyed sending letters to friends in the past, so I was excited to use the pen pal program to connect amidst COVID,” Hannah said. “It’s been so fun writing with Susie! We’ve sent art to each other and I shared some healthy recipe ideas with her.”

Rainbow artwork hanging on a window.
Hannah Eldridge hangs art created by her pen pal, Susie Prigan, on her window at home.

Beth, who has had pen pals since high school, has two pals – one who lives in a Cincinnati nursing home and another located in Northern Kentucky. Seniors have been especially isolated during the pandemic and many senior living communities have launched pen pal initiatives of their own.  

“It makes being at home more less boring and gives us something to look forward to,” Beth said. “I like learning about them; one has a puppy.”

An avid artist, Beth often sends drawings, coloring pages and beaded jewelry to her pals.

“They love it,” she said.

In return, her pals have sent art and craft supplies.

Beth and Susie sitting at a table, smiling and working on their pen pal projects.
Beth and Susie working on their art and postcards for their pen pals.

While the Pen Pal Program is currently at capacity, Community Connections Program Manager Faith Maynard is encouraging more in the LADD community to get involved and use it as a creative outlet.

“We have so many artists at LADD and this is a perfect way to share that art with the world; you don’t have to write a fancy letter to be a great pen pal,” she said.

If you ask Beth and Susie, they recommend everyone have a pen pal.

“We’re pen pals and also friends.”

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