Pen Pals Unite Over Snail Mail

having a pen pal, pen pal, pen pal programs

Do you remember having a pen pal in elementary school? Having one was once a popular pastime. With the growing popularity of Facebook and Skype, the popularity of pen pal programs seems to be dying out. But, that’s not necessarily true.

In the past, these programs gave millions of people the opportunity to practice their writing skills, broaden their minds and learn about a different lifestyle, religion, or even country. They were popular parts of school curriculums, religious groups, and other organizations like the Girl Scouts. Some of the friendships that have been made through these programs have been truly inspirational.

In 1949, Joan Otto of West Virginia and her youth church group wrote letters to Japanese schoolchildren, to help them with their English studies. Most of her friends stopped writing after six months, but Otto continued to write to Yoshiko Oguchi. After 63 years they are still writing. They called and made sure each other was safe after 9/11 and the 2011earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Both women, now in their seventies, met this year for the first time.

While there are still some schools and organizations who participate in traditional mail pen pal programs, new gadgets and equipment are changing the communication process. E-Buddies or Cyber Bonds (when the two individuals communicate through email) has taken off in popularity. However, it doesn’t hinder the pen pal programs at all. In fact, it makes it easier for friendships to be formed with quick responses and more frequent dialogue.

Become a Pen Pal Yourself

Though Otto admits that she prefers handwritten letters and considers emails to be “less intimate and revealing,” she and Oguchi have decided to use the modern technology because it’s more convenient. If you’re interested in having a pen pal and making a difference, check out the Mindful suggestions listed below.

  1. Consider a noteworthy foundation. For instance, the National Alopecia Areata Foundation supports research to find a cure for this autoimmune skin disease. Their pen pal program offers support for those living from the disease. And Best Buddies International, a nonprofit organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), also has an e-Buddies program.
  2. Consider a local nursing home. Some nursing homes residents get lonely, especially when their family is far away. So there are nursing homes that have started pen pal programs for them.