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Pen Pals in Paradise!

Pen Pals in Paradise!

Social media has a way of bringing out the best and the worst in people, but recently I found a slam dunk positive story posted on Facebook that I had to investigate. On May 19, 2022, Bay Village hosted a "Pen Pal Picnic" with students from Wilkinson Elementary School. The pictures featured residents and students enjoying food, fun, and conversation.

I reached out to Bay Village of Sarasota, and they put me in touch with Terry Kall, immediate past Chairman of the Bay Village/Wilkinson Elementary School Partnership. In turn, Terry put me in touch with Susan Nations, Principal of Wilkinson Elementary School. Through a series of phone calls and video chats with both Terry and Susan, I got the scoop on this fantastic story.

The story started in 2019 when Bay Village residents were looking for a school where they could connect and make a difference. They reached out to Principal Susan Nations at Wilkinson Elementary School. They initially started with face-to-face interaction with projects that included a cold weather clothing donation, a book drive, choral programs, and opportunities to help the students learn about table manners and conversation. All this came to a screeching halt when COVID hit.

Terry Kall, Committee Chair, and Susan Nations, Principal at Wilkinson Elementary, both noted that that neither wanted to put an end to the relationship, and so the Pen Pal program was born. 

In 2020, with 27 pen pals, two classrooms, two teachers, and one outreach staff member, the pen pal program began. By 2021 it grew to 46 pen pals. The pen pals exchanged 16 letters throughout the program; they wrote eight and received eight. Many of the children had never written or received a letter. The program was met with enthusiasm by everyone, and many said that it was amazing that something so simple was so powerful.

During the two-year letter-writing campaign, some pen pals could not continue due to illness, and other residents stepped up and filled in by taking multiple students so the momentum would not be lost.

Finally, in May 2022, after two long years apart, the students and Bay Village pen pals met in person and, from all accounts, had a fantastic day!

The program is on summer break but will begin again in September with hopes of expanding to more classrooms and additional students. We know that community attitudes play an important role in age-friendly communities. Intergenerational relationships are critical to fostering understanding and go a long way in challenging negative attitudes about aging and helping to combat ageism. Partnerships like the one between Bay Village and Wilkinson Elementary School are vital to bridging the generations.


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