By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
Everyone gets lonely. Since March, everyone has been feeling it a bit more than usual. People didn’t have their usual summer hangouts. Many have switched to working remotely. For everyone, this year has been filled with too much isolation. For our most high-risk neighbors, this year has been especially difficult.
The Council on Aging has been closed for visitors since March, forcing senior residents to find ways to enjoy activities at home - and staff to find remedies to help seniors stay busy. The newest addition: pen-pals.
This pilot activity comes after the cancellation of all intergenerational programs at the Westwood COA. After talking with Youth and Family Services Director Danielle Sutton and realizing that kids couldn’t do a lot of their community service activities, COA Director Lina Arena-DeRosa came up with the idea. “People are isolated and we need to connect again. We need to get back to that connection. Danielle and I started talking and we thought about doing a pen pal program,” explained Arena-DeRosa. They knew instantly it would be a hit with seniors.
Together, Westwood’s Youth and Family Services and Council on Aging joined forces to launch this brand-new program. The program began with 12-14 high schoolers and 12-14 seniors who were paired up to write letters to one another. “Every month, we have different series of things they can talk about,” said Arena-DeRosa. “We just did basic general things so people could talk, but we’re hoping the relationship will develop on its own. But if it doesn’t, we have questions for each month so both the student and the senior can feel comfortable talking to someone they don’t know.”
The students are going to initiate the first letter during the third week of October. The hope is to keep the letters going back and forth until at least May. Seniors will find out about their assigned students in the next week or so. “One of the seniors said, 'I don’t have a computer, how can I keep in touch with them?' I said 'No, no, this is going to be through the mail.' She was relieved,” recalled Arena-DeRosa. Said senior has since become ecstatic about joining the program.
Intending to alleviate a little of the isolation both seniors and high school students are feeling, the pen-pal program is on its way to helping form some wonderful friendships. “It’s not going to change the world, but sometimes, when you can change a small piece of your community, that can have a big ripple effect,” said Arena-DeRosa.
By May, these students and seniors will likely have learned something new about the other generation - and will have made a new friend while they were at it.