Pen Pal program makes connections, improves writing

DKS Editors

Freshman nursing major Caitlin Brown decided to write for fun by becoming a pen pal to a Portage County elementary school student.

Brown heard about the Pen Pal program, sponsored by Family and Community Services of Portage County, when she attended “Taste of Kent” last week and noticed the Family and Community Service’s table.

“I was drawn to the pen pal table because of the pictures of the children on the poster,” Brown said. “I decided to volunteer my time because I love kids and I remember what it would have felt like to have had an older pen pal when I was in elementary school.”

In fourth grade, Brown’s class participated in a similar program with a class from Kansas. She also had a pen pal from England whom she found through a children’s magazine.

“I think this program is a great idea, and I hope that any children who participate in it get only positive effects,” Brown said. “I hope that it will be a good experience that will give me insight and help me to remember what I might have been like at that age.”

Freshman architecture major Liz Resenic decided to join the program, but, unlike Brown, never had a pen pal. She said she enjoys the thought of writing to a younger person who is looking for a mentor.

Resenic learned about the program through Kent State’s volunteer listserv, which lets e-mail recipients know about volunteer opportunities.

“I hope that they have fun writing letters and laugh a little at the stuff I write,” Resenic said. “I really hope that when they’re older they decide to become a pen pal because of how much they enjoyed the experience.”

Amanda Lindsay is an Americorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) representative completing a year of service for Family and Community Services by coordinating the pen pal program. She said the goal is to increase the children’s communication skills.

“Since they are just learning to read and write, it’s kind of important that they have some incentive,” Lindsay said.

She said the program only requires the writer to send one letter every six weeks.

To make it even easier, packets are sent out to the volunteers to explain when the letters need to be in, when the reply letters should be expected, and it also gives suggestions of things to write about. Also, students need not worry about postage because the Student Center will house a drop box.

The program has been going on for more than eight years but only involved senior citizens from the Retired Senior Volunteer Program until this year. Now the program has expanded to include everyone in the community.

Kathy Austin, a first grade teacher from the Windham Exempted Village School District, was the first teacher to become involved with the program. She found an advertisement for the RSVP program and decided to get involved.

She said having a pen pal is a great opportunity for the students.

“(The program) increases writing skills,” she said. “It gives the students a purpose and an audience to write for.”

Austin said it gives students the opportunity to learn what a pen pal is. It teaches them how to address someone and write about themselves.

“It not only increases the students’ writing skills, it also increases their reading skills and illustration skills,” she said. “The students draw pictures to go along with their letters.”

Austin said at the end of the year, the school and Family and Community Services hold a brunch for the students and pen pals to meet. They play games, exchange gifts and have pictures taken together to remember the exciting day.

If interested in becoming a pen pal, contact Lindsay at (330) 677-5320 or e-mail her at [email protected] The deadline is mid-October.

Contact social services reporter Liz Laubscher at [email protected]