OTTUMWA— Some people might believe letters are dying out, but Pen Pals for Kids does not.
For those who are unfamiliar with Pen Pals for Kids, it is a United Way of Wapello County organization that connects seniors, who are 55 and older with Liberty Elementary school students and give them the opportunity to write letters to one another.
United Way of Wapello County RSVP Director Peggy Fisher said the program has had success in the past, but she wants to continue to see the program grow. Currently there are 30 seniors who want to volunteer and 28 seniors who are thinking about volunteering. Fisher wants more volunteers because she wants the amount to match up with Liberty Elementary’s 72 third graders.
She wants to get more senior volunteers as soon as possible because the program goes on from October to May. “I also want to have a few extra volunteers, just in case someone moves away,” she said. She specifically is reaching out to third graders because of what it can do to improve school performance.
“I’m targeting third graders because research has shown that third graders are starting to struggle with writing skills,” she said. “Research has shown they’re less likely to succeed if they struggle with their writing skills. This is a great way for them to learn penmanship and increase their writing skills.”
Fisher said a senior’s living situation has no effect on whether they can volunteer or not, what matters for Fisher is what the seniors can get out of it. “I’m the facilitator to make this happen,” she said. “Even assisted living people can participate.”
There are other benefits to volunteering. One is that seniors can choose however many hours they would like to volunteer. Generally seniors take half an hour to write letters to their kids once or twice a month, but Fisher won’t place a limit on it because of what the seniors and kids can both experience.
“What is amazing is the connection the kids make with the seniors,” she said. “When seniors meet the children in person, they get back so much more than expected. Any person who has a heart for volunteering understands that there’s an intrinsic reward from what I understand.”
Fisher said another benefit of volunteering is that letter writing between seniors and kids doesn’t have to be complex. “There’s really an organic flow to this,” she said, “they can write whatever they want, but if they need topics I definitely will have some on hand.”
Fisher said the process is not complicated for volunteers. All they have to do is call or come to United Wapello Way in order to get started with the volunteering. For 10-15 minutes, interested volunteers will fill out a profile on their likes and dislikes and then Fisher will match up their interests based on what the kids answered.
“The profile consists of likes and dislikes, their favorite colors, favorite books, etc,” she said. “This is a great way for the seniors and kids to get to know one another. We also do a simple background check on seniors to make sure there are not any issues.”
Fisher said volunteers are guaranteed to want to keep being pen pals to kids. “If they like getting something in the mail, that’s not bills, they’ll definitely enjoy getting a letter,” she said with a laugh. It is a fantastic opportunity to make a difference in another generation.”