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Precious PenPals: Students and seniors are bridging the generational gap by mail

A sweet set of relationships are developing through a lost art: letter writing between Pen Pals. The children of Roosevelt Cone's Character Development Center are brightening the days -- and learning the history -- of the generations that came before them through their Pen Pal program with Southern Manor Senior Living.

Anyone remember a couple of decades ago (way back in the 20th century!) when mailboxes, cursive writing, and sending and receiving sweet notes and letters was a common act? How exciting and thrilling it was waiting for the postal carrier to bring a pastel-colored envelope or a package with your name on it or hearing someone say, “You have something in the mail!” Those were the BEST words ever!

Roosevelt's Character Development Center and Southern Manor Group have joined forces and are taking a ‘short ride' back in time to refresh the memories of the residents of Southern Manor and introduce the children at the Center to a new or almost forgotten world. The residents are sharing and making history a reality, while the children are participating in acts of kindness and love.

Southern Manor Pen Pals-planning meeting. Michele LeBlanc

For those of us that are NOT familiar with what ‘Pen Pals’ are, they're simply folks who write to each other regularly, usually by mail. They're often strangers who form a bond through letters.

It is both honorable and memorable that Roosevelt's Character Development Center chose Southern Manor Group to partner in ‘Bridging the Gap.’

“Pen Pals was a great idea to involve both residents and our young children in making lifelong connections with our elders and learning respect for the generations that come before us,” said Ralph Cowart, CEO of Southern Manor Group.

Linda Cantrell, Pen Pal, receiving her 1st card. Barbara Eloi

Shelby Cone, co-founder of Roosevelt’s Character Development Center, Cowart, and Barbara Eloi, Lifestyle Director at Southern Manor Group, have combined forces to make this pen pal plan a reality.

Eloi shared, “The purpose of ‘Pen Pals’ is to connect the residents' generation's knowledge and wisdom with the younger generation. The goal is to ‘Bridge the Gap’ between generations, for both parties to LEARN from each other."

"It started with each child sending photos, cards, letters to their ‘Pen Pals’ that Barbara had hand-picked at Southern Manor. The ‘Pen Pal’ resident would in turn write back to the child," Cone said. "This would be the beginning of a wonderful relationship similar to having a BONUS grandparent.”

(left-right) Barbara Eloi -Lifestyle Director, Shelby Cone- Co Founder. Michele LeBlanc

Cone continued, “Mr. Roosevelt has been a ‘Caretaker and Mentor’ for children for over 20 years, starting our first Youth Center in 2009. Our goal has always been teaching kids to have good character and be good citizens. The relationship between the children and the Southern Manor residents teaches caring and respect for the elderly and hits them directly once they develop that relationship. It's definitely a culture teaching experience for all involved."

Roosevelt Pen Pals | Front Row L-R: Kinsley, Nyjah; Center Row, L-R: Hunter, Juan, Adrian, Kaleb; Back Row (L-R) Aubree, Mr. Roosevelt. | Shelby Cone

The ‘Pen Pal’ relationship helps to enhance these kids' experience of finding JOY in helping others by making them smile.

Eloi shared, “My residents lit up with excitement when they received their first cards and letters from the kids!” Some of the envelopes included cards, photos, or brief notes of their accomplishments.

The ‘Pen Pals’ residents were eager to write back and looked forward to meeting their pals in person. This was the beginning of these wonderful relationships. Both Cone & Eloi agreed, future plans will involve monthly meetings to get to know each other.

“We plan to make visits to Southern Manor to allow the ‘Pen Pals’ to talk face-to-face, celebrate the holidays, and bring gifts,” shared Cone.

It's easy to see how these ‘Pen Pal’ relationships have helped enhance both the children's and residents' lives.

Southern Manor Pen Pals-(lt-rt) Mary Woodruff, Eleanor Williams, Barbara Eloi, Shelby Cone, Bonnie Campbell, Linda Cantrell. Michele LeBlanc

"I am honored that we are a part of a community where this is empowering our youth and giving our elders even more purpose,” Cowart concluded.

Remember writing a note or sending a card is not only for ‘Pen Pals’ but for those you care about, too! Take a lesson from these children and do not allow this to become a ‘lost art!’ In this busy, chaotic world of ours, take just a moment and send an expression of gratitude and kindness to someone today.

Show some ‘LOVE’ (by mail!) for your next Senior Moment!

Want to know more about Roosevelt’s Character Development Center? Contact Shelby Cone at 912-541-2082.