Getting youth to connect with local seniors turned into an unexpected and welcome success story for the Village of Fruitvale and Area A.
The community’s unique Letter Links and Pay it Forward programs have proven a relief from COVID and a positive experience for both students and Beaver Valley seniors.
Fruitvale councillor Vickie Fitzpatrick was the inspiration behind the Letter Links pen-pal program.
She approached Fruitvale Mayor Steve Morissette and Area A director Ali Grieve for support, and then asked Fruitvale Elementary School (FES) teacher Danielle Morissette if her Grade 6 and 7 students would come on board.
“Danielle said I’m all in, and she organized her students, we put a call out for who wanted to join, and we had about two dozen (seniors) respond,” explained Fitzpatrick.
“And they’re so excited.”
The Letter Links program mobilized FES Grade 6-7 students to put pen or pencil to paper in a pen-pal exchange with B.V. seniors.
“There are 27 seniors now that we have and the kids are writing to,” said Danielle. “It’s definitely a process, a learning curve. We’ve definitely learned how to address letters, envelopes, and putting the stamp on the envelope. Sometimes we’ll walk down to the post office and put them in the box.”
The pen-pal exchange has lifted spirits and been mutually beneficial, especially during the pandemic when many seniors are isolated.
“There are a variety of ages, I know one senior is 80 or 90 so the kids get quite a kick out of it,” said Danielle. “It’s been nice. One of the girls it was her birthday and she got a birthday card from her senior.”
In the Pay It Forward program, J. L. Crowe Secondary school students Marci Brooks and Tyler Dalton volunteered their time to help seniors tend their gardens, help with yard work, and wash windows.
Council was so impressed that community partners Fruitvale and Area A awarded Brooks and Dalton and FES teacher Danielle Morissette with a gift of thanks on Tuesday (May 25) for their contributions.
Both Morissette and Grieve were Letter Links participants, as Grieve only sees an upside to the engagement between B.V. youth and its senior population.
“Thinking ahead, maybe once this activity is over and COVID is behind us, this could maybe evolve into some face-to-face time with seniors at their own functions, at the luncheons and the coffees,” said Fitzpatrick.
One unique challenge for students was deciphering the seniors’ elegant cursive writing strokes, a special learning experience of its own. And soon, students found themselves getting excited about Canada Post and mail delivery.
“It was one of the most rewarding programs that we’ve seen,” said Fitzpatrick. “The seniors are over the moon. My friend, picked one up, went to the park, started to read it, and started to cry.
“She said, ‘It was the sweetest thing I’d ever received.’”