Meeting a New Pal for the First Time

Nearly a year ago, Diane Bahr, who teaches second grade at Mount Vernon Elementary School in Yorktown, VA, contacted The Chesapeake to suggest a Pen Pal program between her students and residents The Chesapeake.   Diane said, “Our society often neglects the wisdom of our elders and I wanted my students to bond with seniors and learn that they are not so different after all.”   Susan LaFrance, Director of Programs and Resident Services, embraced the idea with enthusiasm. So, the program began, and letters and cards were exchanged for several months, and then the big day arrived. The Pals would meet each other in person at The Chesapeake.

On June 3, 2015, The Chesapeake Pals and the students Pals met each other first time. When the children arrived at The Chesapeake, the name of each child’s Pen Pal was called and each resident stepped forward to greet a young friend, it was like watching old friends greeting each other with hugs and smiles. Then walked together to get cookies and punch before sitting down to chat. The children felt very much at home at The Chesapeake with their Pals.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC) like The Chesapeake, provide wonderful environments for intergenerational programs. Residents come from a various backgrounds and have lots to share, and they appreciate the opportunities of getting to know the children.   The lifestyle enjoyed by residents gives them unique opportunities to truly enjoy life to the fullest and make new friends of all ages.

This Pen Pal program began in October 2014 with an interview questionnaire created by the students for the seniors. Among the questions were: Did you have a job before you moved to The Chesapeake? What are your favorite colors? What is your favorite food? What do you like to do for fun? Soon they were corresponding about painting, gardening, service to their country, traveling, etc. and the children are so open to sharing about their favorite

Ted Schaller discovered that he and his pen pal, Keenan, both have red bicycles! Keenan told his teacher that he wanted to go bike riding with Ted one day. Cliff Francis’ pen pal, Logan, learned that seniors are different, but really fun! Tom Crittenden found that he and his pal, Landon, both loved sports. Tom says that he already felt like a member of Landon’s family, but they were both astounded when, shortly after meeting each other they discovered that they shared the same birthday – March 21!

Louise Marchello describes her pal, Peter, as happy, delightful and she enjoyed his adorable letters. Doris Shea, a lifelong educator and school administrator, was pleasantly surprised at how much today’s second graders can do – delighted at their level of thought. Her pal, Emma, is from a military family and was born in England. Doris believes that the children will likely never forget the experience.

Ms. Bahr hopes to continue the program with her class next school year. “The bonds were just instantaneous! I knew from the beginning that this would be a great experience, but not until today did I realize the full impact of the relationships that had been created through the year, through cards and letters. The residents were so warm, caring, and welcoming and truly made each student feel special!”