It had been a long-time goal of Susan Sherwood’s, Marketing Coordinator at Springhill, to create more intergenerational connections for the residents in her community. Back in January, Sherwood made her dreams a reality and reached out to a local third grade teacher to see if his students would be interested in a pen pal program with Springhill residents. The class was thrilled about the idea and had 30 students who wanted to get paired up with a Springhill senior to correspond with.
Sherwood paired the students and seniors together based on similar interests they had and went back and forth between Springhill and the school to deliver letters back and forth. When COVID-19 struck, Sherwood was fearful of what would happen to the pen pal program, as it had become a source of joy in her residents. However, the students enjoyed it just as much as the seniors did and a large group of them wanted to continue to write from home with the help of their parents mailing out the letters.
During this time, Sherwood said the pen pal program has boosted residents spirits and morale over the last few months. Despite their age difference, the students and seniors have a number of things to talk about, such as one pair who bonded over their passion for basketball. The seniors ask them questions about school and their families, while students enjoy hearing about what it was like for the residents when they were their age. Sherwood says, “they talk about everything under the sun! It is an eye opening experience for the students because they discover they have more in common with the seniors than they thought.”
A few months into the pen pal exchange, something extraordinary happened. Through exchanging letters back and forth and getting to know each other, one of the student and senior pairs discovered that they were related. After talking to some other family members and creating a family tree, the duo concluded that they were in fact fourth cousins. Sherwood and the rest of the Springhill team was astounded that this random pairing ended up creating an everlasting bond. Since this revelation, the cousins have taken their relationship to the next level and talk regularly on the phone, further closing the gap between their generations.
“Intergenerational relationships are everything to them,” Sherwood says, “communicating with these students keeps them mentally and emotionally stimulated, as well as helping them maintain a positive attitude through these especially challenging times.”
Before COVID, Sherwood and her team had a party planned for the students to come meet their pen pals in person, and both sides were extremely disappointed when this was no longer an option. Instead, Sherwood was able to arrange a virtual celebration where the students and residents go to “meet” and do a show and tell together. It was an extremely powerful and special occasion and lasted for hours, sharing stories, photos, and laughs across generations. It is still Sherwood, and the students and residents hope, that someday soon they will be able to connect face to face.
ISherwood hopes that this program changes the way that not only children, but people of all ages, view older adults. Younger people often look at seniors and forget they are people just like them. The students were able to gain insights, wisdom, and problem solving skills, to name a few, and the residents were able to be transported back to their youth and feel involved in the outside world. Both sides benefitted greatly from the relationships they formed with each other, and they even had a virtual meet and greet to hold them over until they are able to finally meet in person. Sherwood has been deeply inspired by the pen pal program and wants to continue it with other local classes and other residents at Springhill.