Are pen pals still a thing in this age of instant communication?
I had a pen pal named Barbara when I was about 10. She lived in Britt, Iowa, where I had distant relatives who connected us. Barbara used many exclamation points, which to me indicated "a lot of personality." I am sure I responded with corresponding !!!
She wrote me about 4-H and entering the fair, and I told her about my baton lessons and marching in parades. But our communications petered out quickly, despite the lively punctuation.
I've written stories for the Weekly about pen pals who've managed to build and sustain long distance friendships for decades, even between continents, and finally meet in person.
Now, Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch is starting a pen pal program to help its residents practice letter writing and improve their social interaction skills.
Sunflower Hill is a residential community for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and it recently received a $2,500 grant from the Pleasanton Rotary Club Foundation to use for program supplies. Some of this has been earmarked for the pen pal program.
"The main purpose is for residents to have a sense of community and to build a support network for themselves," residential programs manager Pratimajit Kaur told me last week.
The staff is working out the final details, she said, including highlighting residents who want to participate. They will be noted in the newsletter for supporters of Sunflower Hill to request as pen pals. Letters will go through the office.
"Staff will help our residents with writing or developing the letter, or some can do it on their own," Kaur said.
Everyone will follow guidelines, such as being respectful to the pen pal and using simple language.
"They will have a conversation, such as asking, 'How is your day going?'" Kaur said. "This continues to build upon the residents' communication and social skills."
"It will be an optional program," she added. "We want to give them a choice."
She was looking forward to carrying out this program in person after months of virtual activities. Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch only opened in October, and its 31 apartments are all leased out.
"This is an independent living community," Kaur explained. "Some residents work, some go out with their families. They do their own things and are living their own lives. A few residents go to school. We have a mixture of all these wonderful talents."
Some have caregivers or support staff who come in to help with daily tasks. Sunflower Hill also offers recreational activities for residents to feel a sense of community.
"The main purpose is coming together, enjoying that time together, creating a bond," Kaur said. "Sometimes residents join activities virtually and we end up just talking."
She hopes the new pen pal program will be ready to go by June or July and result in residents getting connected even more to Pleasanton.
"We have a few residents who go out for walks, and they like to go to the farmers' market," she said. "These are some of the bright and positive stories you hear every day here, and they can share these stories with their pen pals."
Kaur said she had a pen pal she found on a website when she was in high school in Long Island.
"We both liked anime, and we started talking about that," she recalled. "In college, we were still talking and now it is like a close, best friend bond we have."
"This person was in New York City, a totally different culture," she added. "It was a very positive experience for me."
Kaur is excited Sunflower Hill residents will be able to enjoy pen pals.
"We want to provide that experience that any other person would have," she said. "I can see it being like a fun event to sit together and say, 'My friend wrote this today,' or 'This is what my friend is doing.' It will be a very proud moment."
Kaur also appreciates the pleasure of using attractive notepaper and looks forward to sharing that.
"I am so thankful that the money is going to help us get beautiful stationery, envelopes and stamps so residents can have that full experience," she said.
Editor's note: Dolores Fox Ciardelli is Tri-Valley Life editor for the Pleasanton Weekly. Her column, "Valley Views," appears on the second and fourth Fridays of each month -- and sometimes on the fifth.