‘They’ve adopted them:’ Students meet pen pals

Radix fourth-graders write monthly letters to residents at Juniper Village, meet them in person

Juniper Village resident Sharon Collins sits beside her pen pal from Radix Elementary School, Ayden. In one of his letters, Ayden shared a story of his family trip to Ireland. (Anthony J. Mazziotti III/The Sun)

A member of the Silent Generation, a Baby Boomer, a Generation X-er and a member of Generation Z walk into a room – no this isn’t the set up for a joke, it’s an actual event that happened last week in Williamstown. Karen Gallagher’s fourth-grade class at Radix Elementary School has been pen pals with residents of Juniper Village in Williamstown since January. The pen pals met for the first time on April 16.

The students wrote one letter each month since January and received one letter from their older pen pal in return.

“They’re very excited, I was really happy to make a connection between young people and an older generation,” Gallagher said. “I wanted them to make the connection with history and real people.”

The pen pal project was the second time Radix has partnered with Juniper Village, according to Kathy Graham, connections director at Juniper Village. The first event took place in March, which had first- through fourth-graders playing bingo with residents. The pen pal project was different. It brought a spark to the village.

“I love how our residents light up when the letters come,” Graham said. “They’ve been looking forward to meeting their student. This project finally coming to fruition like this is amazing. I know it’s going to spark even more intergenerational activities.”

When it came to the letter writing, the residents shared information about what it was like when they were growing up, where they used to work and even the cost of groceries. The students shared their interests and information about their families.

For example, resident Sharon Collins penned her pal Ayden about her career for the Ford Motor Company and how she was in charge of the dealerships in the Northeast. Her job allowed her to travel across the country. Ayden penned back describing his trip to Ireland to watch his brother’s travel soccer team.

Resident Mary Borza wrote about how she fled Hungary when she was 17 years old during World War II and started a new life in Williamstown.

Student Tucker shared his love of sports with his pen pal Luis, who is an avid Eagles fan. Another student, Reilly shared the many sports she played with her pen pal. Student Lexi’s biggest takeaway from the project was learning the historical events that took place during her pen pal’s life, like the Great Depression and the Kennedy assassination.

“It was fun meeting them and getting to know what it was like when they were kids,” Lexi said.

The concept for the pen pal project came from Gallagher’s children, who are eighth-graders at St. Mary’s. Their class did a community project with a senior home like Juniper Village. Her children’s teacher put her in contact with Graham.

Gallagher’s biggest takeaway is her students learning from living pieces of history.

“These women, some of them are 99, I look at that and think to myself about World War II and the women who had to step up, how they had to be tough and strong, how they maintained the home and jobs while the men were away. That strong female is here,” she said.

While it was educational for the students to learn from the residents, it was just as exciting for the residents to meet their pen pals.

“I’ve seen the residents, they perk up because they remember their childhood,” Graham said. “They’re reliving it as if their grandchildren are here visiting. They’ve adopted them, not just to be writing letters to them, but as if they were their grandchildren, extended family. It has brought life.”