Pen Pal Program for Students & Seniors

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – The coronavirus has taken a toll on us all, including senior citizens who may be in isolation, and District 51 students who’ve been forced to virtually participate in school and extracurricular activities.

Grand Junction High School teacher Lori Holloway is connecting students and staff with local senior citizens through letters.

Not only is this giving new life to the folks who’ve been isolated for months, but its also giving the students and staff a whole new perspective.

“I think it’s had a huge impact on the students,” said Holloway.

Holloway is also the school’s National Honors Society sponsor.

“When COVID-19 hit, a lot of the opportunities that we had to go into different organizations in Grand Junction, vanished,” said Holloway.

Inspired by her 95-year-old aunt who lives in a New Jersey assisted living facility, Holloway wanted to start a pen pal program between students and local seniors.

“They cannot be in contact with their family or friends and it’s quite lonely for them,” said Holloway.

“They’re not able to see family, they’re not able to get the social time with all of their friends and I know it’s probably very difficult,” said Katie Ellis, an upcoming senior whose taken on three pen pals.

Ellis is just one of the over 50 students and staff participating in the program.

“It’s bigger than I thought it was going to be,” said Holloway, “I expected to maybe get a list of 25 senior citizens who would be interested.”

Instead, she got a list of about 130 seniors from The Fountains of Hilltop and The Commons of Hilltop. As a result, she opened the program up to GJHS staff and students with the Department of Youth Services.

“One of the ladies mentioned how it had gotten very boring at the nursing home and she could just get television and she was very excited to hear for me because she was very bored,” said Ellis.

“They’re opening up to the students, they’re saying, ‘I went to Grand Junction High School,’ or ‘when I was in high school,'” said Holloway.

According to Holloway, the students and staff involved in the program are having fun.

“I just try to write about all the upbeat things,” said Ellis, “I like to throw puns and stuff in there, try to make them have a little chuckle when they read it.”

“Some of the students send them jokes and riddles, cartoons a lot of the students have done artwork,” said Holloway.

The experience is also teaching students new types of lessons.

“As I read about things it’s a little bit of a reflection,” said Ellis.

“Their stories are so rich, their lives are so rich and they’re just a wonderful segment of our community that I think sometimes is overlooked,” said Holloway.

On top of that, Holloway said participants are also finding friendship.

“For me, it’s a little bit of a socializing as well,” said Ellis.

“We are forging new friendships, they’re learning about each other and the differences that exist generationally,” said Holloway, “So I think it’s a very heartwarming experience for everybody that’s involved.”

Many of the students are interested in meeting their pen pals in person. Holloway said she’s looking into organizing an ice cream social in the future, as safety is a main concern.

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