For the past three years, Spring has ushered in the pen pal project at the San Francisco Friends School. It’s the time when 5th graders write letters to seniors attending CLCs community connectors programs. The students share tales of their travels, hobbies, favorite books (some surprisingly sophisticated) and families (pesky younger siblings are common). Then, like all good letter writers they ask questions.
Barbara Fugate from the Cayuga Community Connectors eagerly anticipates the childrens’ letters. She’s so eager, she usually answers letters from three or four students. “I write them back immediately. You never know when you might influence someone, and it’s good to hear what the kids are thinking. Anything that gets kids to read makes me happy.”
Later, we visit the school to tell their stories. Then, sometime in May, we return to see the short skits the students developed from our stories. “I told them about the ghost that lived in a house I rented. That made a good skit – sound effects and all,” Barbara said.
This year, of course, the coronavirus disrupted those plans. The visiting part of the program never happened. Nonetheless, many of us still made new friends. A young woman turned me on to “The Giver” by Lois Lowery; another shared that she had been reading “Anne Frank: the Diary of a Young Girl” and I remembered how I felt when I finished that book.
Jono Gay, who turns 11 in June, and I talked for this story. Jono is an experienced pen pal, having participated in a pen pal program at his other school and occasionally writing his grandfather in Orange County. Jono decided to challenge himself by using an online translation program to write his letter in Chinese and English. Barbara hasn’t received his letter yet, but she’s excited to reply.
This year, knowing that seniors would be home for a very long time and wanting to cheer them up, Caren Andrews, the art teacher for the younger students asked the students in grades kindergarten – 4th to send a drawing to a senior. They had been “studying maps at school before SIP…that is why so many maps arrived with your mailing,” she explained.
For us, said Guybe Slangen, the SFFS Director of Community Engagement, it’s all about “care, connection, and community. They are opportunities for connections where we can show care to learn more about and share with others.”
Those values also hold true for their senior pals.