Pen pals connect the generations

Published 9:56 am Tuesday, May 21, 2024

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By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

Zack Banks wasn’t sure what he was going to do with his life when he graduates from Davie County High School next month.

Now, he’s seriously considering a career in the military, checking out the U.S. Air Force.

All he needed was a little encouragement, and he got that from a program in his English class taught by Ashley Snider. The class project for the semester was to be a pen pal to an elderly person through Davie Senior Services.

Banks was matched with Rita Keen, and after a couple of introductory letters, they started to open up about their personal lives while corresponding the old-fashioned way, by pen and paper.

“As we were writing, I opened up a little more,” he said. “She would give me her opinion, and I really took it into consideration. She just said for me to do what I can do, to do what makes me happy. I’m on it, and I really appreciate her advice.”

The two – along with about 60 other students and their pen pals – met for the first time last week at a reception at senior services.

“He was kind of shy, without much self confidence,” Keen said. “I know that kids need guidance. They need to know that someone cares. I’m really proud of him.”

It’s the type of story that makes Snider, the teacher, proud. Last year, her students answered letters to Santa from children.

She got the idea from a video during her training to be a teacher.

“I felt like this was a good opportunity to connect generations,” she said. “There’s been a lot of good to come from this. Any time we can encourage different generations to communicate with one another, the more humanity we will find. It has overwhelmingly been a joyous experience.”

Carrie Miller was the coordinator of the program at senior services, and was also pleased with the results.

Tania Arellano came with a robot she had built. Her pen pal, Anne Gould, was proud that a female was going to study mechanical engineering in college, prepping for a possible military career.

“I was so interested in her project,” Gould said. “It’s rare for a woman to go into engineering … and to build their own robot.”

“I got the opportunity to see people continue to be invested in educating themselves, and share their stories, and give us comfort that everything is fine and we shouldn’t be afraid of aging,” Arellano said.

A former teacher, Gould was impressed. “You’re a good writer,” she told Arellano. It also helps people who are aging to communicate with younger generations, she said. “It’s important to stay young at heart.”

Jackie Peters and student Lathell Hawks had plenty to talk about, especially since Peters had 8 brothers and sisters while Hawks had 6.

“We talked (wrote) about everything, sports, our siblings,” she said. “I came from New Hampshire so I talked about that.”

David Orren had two student pen pals at the reception – Jalenna Ford and Ehtan Chandler – and brought each a wooden piece of art he had made.

“To have him as my first pen pal was a lot of fun,” Ford said. “We wrote about our family members, and the things we like.”

The teacher hopes that love of writing letters to others – especially those from a different lifestyle – will continue as the students enter their next chapter in life.