Pals

For the past few years, I’ve felt the pull to volunteer in some capacity. But I just haven’t found the right fit. And quite honestly, every time I think about making a serious commitment to some cause, I end up questioning where I think I’ll find the time between working, taking care of my mom and managing the household.

And then one day, my employer announced an opportunity that would allow me to contribute in a small way and do so on company time. Two birds. One stone. I was in like Flynn.

It’s a pen-pal program and we exchange letters with kids at a local elementary school. We’ll write to each other throughout the school year, and the program culminates this spring when we’ll get to meet in person at the pen-pal picnic! Our corporate office piloted the program last year and it was such a success, the opportunity was opened to all of our offices around the country this year. As soon as I volunteered, I anxiously waited to find out who my pal would be.

As it turns out, there weren’t enough volunteers at my office’s location. While volunteers at the other offices were already getting to know their pen-pals, it took an extra couple of weeks to figure things out for us. We finally learned that everyone who volunteered was assigned two kids. Easy enough. These are young students, probably with short attention spans. We’re asked to write a couple of simple paragraphs to each child, once every other week. We were instructed to print all of our letters as kids today aren’t learning cursive! That was so hard to imagine for those of us who spent our grade school years learning to perfectly form our letters between the precisely defined lines of school-issued writing paper.

Each volunteer shares one notebook with both of their kids. The notebooks travel back and forth each week between the office and the school.IMG_3918a The adults writers kicked things off. I began writing to Darius and Theo knowing nothing but their first names and that they were probably in the third grade. I wrote an initial single letter to both boys, telling them a bit about myself, my family and my dog. I asked simple questions about their ages and families, as well as school and other interests.

IMG_3919What fun it was to receive the boys’ responses! I was amazed at how their personalities began to shine through right from the start. Darius told me he was nine years old, and I could see he was a bit reserved. He mainly answered the questions I’d asked in my first letter. But he also let me know that he loves to watch Star Wars Rebels. I have no idea what that is, but I am determined to become familiar in the interest of solidifying our friendship and drawing him out of his shell as we get to know each other. Darius also wanted to know Lucy’s age.

 

IMG_3920Theo, who is ten, was more open in his letter to me. And while it was immediately obvious that he’s not yet a big fan of punctuation, I was happy to find that we shared a connection as dog lovers. I learned that Theo’s dog, Hades is still a puppy and likes to eat “squrils.” I actually thought he was trying to tell me that eating the squirrel gave Hades the sh*ts, but I quickly realized I’d just misread his little boy writing. Thankfully, while Hades may have had the sh*ts, Theo only wanted to share that his dog had received shots. And he’s all better now.

 

On my second turn with the notebook, I wrote separate letters to each of the boys. We’re not allowed to send anything that could be construed as a gift, but photos, postcards, and things such as stickers are allowed. I decorated their pages with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Transformers stickers. I answered their questions, telling them a bit more about Lucy, and asked for more details about their families and pets. In their first letters, each had shared that they have a number of brothers and sisters. This time, I asked more questions about their siblings… how old they were, and whether they shared bedrooms, and if they got along well, or sometimes fought, as my kids did while growing up.

The boys’ responses were cute, both including little doodles around the margins. Theo framed his response in penciled, criss-cross formed stars. And with their replies, I was reminded of another detail that was given when I’d first attended the  pen pal program’s informational session. It’s part of the reason we have a healthy snack drive going on for these same kids. Sixty percent of the children who attend our adopted school are from families living at or below the poverty line. As I read their letters, my mind made the leap to single-parent and broken-family situations. My heart broke a little when both boys answered my questions about their siblings. Darius’ note was both funny  – when he told me about his cats, named Bug, Mush and Eva, and slightly sad when he answered my questions about his siblings. He told me that he does fight sometimes with one brother, “Nate, as I call him,” but that he hasn’t seen his other brothers in a long time. “And I miss them.” 

IMG_3921

Theo told me that he doesn’t live with his three brothers and sister, “but I see them sometimes.” He included an illustration of a time when he was with one brother. His brother is obviously older, and slightly bossy. Theo described how he was sitting on the couch and his brother told him, “Come on.” It was time to go to bed. Theo asked, “Why?” Apparently, the instruction given by his brother “confuesed” Theo.

But Theo made me smile too when he talked more about his puppy. I had told Theo that Lucy is a mixed breed, but it seems there is a lot of Boxer in her. Theo told me that Hades is “a full piple.” (You know. PIP-le. Or, Pitt Bull, as I like to call them.) Like Lucy, Hades apparently can’t resist breaking all of his toys. Theo included a p.s. in his letter, telling me that Hades is currently sixty pounds, with the potential to reach a hundred and ten! (Very precise is this boy!)

IMG_3923

There’s already a soft-spot forming in my heart for these little guys, and I’m really hoping that our letters continue not only to encourage and improve their writing skills, but also to foster great friendships.

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14 thoughts on “Pals

    • Thank you, MJ! You know I couldn’t resist an opportunity that involved writing. And it is so much fun. Getting the notebooks back with their messages just makes for a bright spot in my day!

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    • I agree. I’m really hoping it’s something we continue for years to come. I’m a bit worried though by the lack of interest in my office. We literally have hundreds of employees and it’s disappointing that so few volunteered.

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  1. OMG, I love this idea! Hand written communication is going by the wayside, so I think it makes it all the more special. I definitely think this will have a positive impact on those kids at their early ages.

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    • I loved it as soon as I heard about it too, Abby. It makes me realize how little hand-written communication I normally do … and how much we all enjoy getting a handwritten note from someone.

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  2. You know, Tee, you’ll be a good influence on these two boys’ lives! Some kids have a tough time of it these days, and they can use a good role model. Drawing them out via letters is a great way to show interest — and eventually care — for them, and just think how fun that pen-pal picnic is going to be! Kudos for participating (I’m still stunned kids aren’t learning cursive any more!!)

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    • Thanks, Debbie. I hope I can be a good influence in some small way. Already, this has become so much bigger for me than writing a few simple notes back and forth with a couple of kids. It’s been such an eye-opener to the poverty that exists just outside our back door, and what a helpless feeling that there’s so little we can sometimes do. If my notes can provide even a small amount of positivity, I’ll be happy.

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  3. I love this! I used to teach that age group so seeing their writing brought back sweet memories. When I was student teaching I “adopted” a young pen pal, and we have kept in touch all these years later. She is now a teacher as well.
    These boys will most definitely benefit from having you as your pen pal. It’s so cool that you’ll get to meet them too! Kudos to you and your company for supporting this program! 🙂

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    • That is so cool that you’ve kept in touch all of these years! It would be nice if I had that same opportunity, but I’m not sure I will. We have to keep things very much on the surface and if the school doesn’t keep us in touch with these same kids over the years, I’m not sure I’ll have the chance to continue. Either way, I’ll continue participating in this program as long as I’m able.

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  4. What an inspiring program! If anyone has the knack for penning a good story and drawing someone out of their shell, it is definitely Tee! I think you can really have a positive impact upon these kids lives, just with your simple words. I recall way, way back in my youth having an old fashioned pen pal. Mark, a kid my age from Nagasaki, Japan. We exchanged letters (I still remember those old, international velum envelopes) for a few years but I lost track of him. It was interesting to get a peak into a different culture/world well before Google and the Internet.

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  5. This is so cool, Tee. I’m a huge fan of kids that age. They are honest and innocent. It touches my heart that you’re doing this and loved reading about them. I’m near my nephews now in Chicago, and they are around the same ages as Theo and Darius. Nick is 10 and his twin brothers are 8. I’m loving being around them. Thanks for sharing the letters. (I’ve often wondered about not learning cursive. Will they not need to sign contracts in the future? Hmm.)

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  6. Thanks for sharing this story. You must be thrilled to help in this way. I would love to do something like this! We have a lot of volunteer opportunities where I work, but I’ve found that it can be difficult to get away when things are scheduled. I like the idea of the notebooks going back and forth. It will be a great keepsake for the kids. I also like the idea of the picnic in the spring. How fun! Enjoy!

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  7. 🙂 I started to write to penpals when i was 13. I had friends from all over the globe.
    But the age of the internet killed penpals… The anticipation of waiting for the reply was lost…
    I have no penfriends now. They have grown older than have better things to do
    😦

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