Students from the Ocean Palms Elementary extended day program known as DEN met their senior pen pals from THE PLAYERS Community Senior Center May 24. The students and seniors were excited to finally meet each other in person, as they had been corresponding since September.
The students walked over to the senior center, which is located just down the road from the school on Landrum Lane, had a meet and greet with their senior companion, and engaged in a couple of rounds of bingo along with their senior.
This was the first time the OPE extended day participated in a program like this. The idea for pen pal program came from OPE Extended Day Aid Jodi Eller, who was inspired to approach the senior center because of the joy she experiences from corresponding with her grandfather.
“I’ve been writing to my grandfather since I was a little girl, and I still write to him,” said Eller, noting that her grandfather, who lives in a retirement community in Indiana, is her only surviving grandparent. “I think with this generation, they don’t have a lot of letter writing experience.”
Darlene Mahany, THE PLAYERS Community Senior Center coordinator, was delighted when Eller approached her with the idea – a first-of-its-kind program at the center. Mahany, who had two pen pals herself, said the seniors were eager to participate.
“They were excited about it because a lot of their grandchildren don’t live nearby,” Mahany said. “We try to do as many intergenerational activities as we can here.”
About 26 students originally participated in the pen pal program. The program was open to all after school OPE students, but in general, third, fourth and fifth grade students showed the most interest.
One of the seniors who enjoyed the program was Darlene Tye.
“It’s been a great experience and I think the kids have enjoyed it too,” Tye said. “I think this kind of thing should be going on much more prevalently.”
Tye’s pen pal, fifth-grader Timmy Ralph, said that he enjoyed the idea of talking to different people, learning about them, telling them about personal experiences and learning about what their hobbies are and what they like to do.
“In the letters, I told about what I was doing over summer, how I broke my thumb, and what I’ve been doing in school,” Ralph said.
The meet and greet corresponded with Older Americans Month, an annual event honoring seniors that traces its roots to President John F. Kennedy, who in 1963 designated May as Senior Citizens Month.