Friendships formed in pen pal program

Woodlands Park Retirement Village Berwick residents Wendy and Bruce Wright.

By Jessica Anstice

Lockdown, and the social isolation that comes with it, has been especially tough for Casey’s older residents.

Students from Beaconhills College in Berwick have been forming new friendships as they connect with residents from Woodlands Park Retirement Village through a new pen pal program.

Woodlands Park assistant village manager, Jennifer Kallaste, said she saw what a difference children had made to elderly residents on a TV program last year.

She decided that implementing a pen pal program would be something both the village’s residents and local Grade 5 students could benefit from.

“It has now become a lot bigger than we first anticipated,” Ms Kallaste said.

“This has also proven to be somewhat of a distraction and something for our residents to look forward to.”

In the letters, students discuss what sports they play and in return, ask the residents what sports they used to play.

They talk about their siblings and what they do on the weekends.

Ms Kallaste said the students are eager to find out what the residents did as children and how life was different compared to now.

“The residents mostly talk about where they came from, what they did as children and how many, if any, children and grandchildren they have after they have answered the students’ questions,” she explained.

She said feedback from the residents has been extremely positive and hopes the program can be continued into the future.

One resident said the pen pal program was an “absolutely brilliant idea” and wishes it had been introduced sooner.

Another said, “I share my letter by reading to other residents who just love hearing their stories.”

A different resident said they really hope they get to meet their pen pals and share afternoon tea with them.

From the students’ perspective, the pen pal program provides an authentic audience for a curriculum based learning activity, Beaconhills College head of citizenship and service Clare Tuohy said.

“The kids know that what they are doing and learning is valued by someone else,” Ms Tuohy explained.

“It enables local community connections and relationships to be built.

“It also enables a greater understanding from the students point of view that regardless of age, all community members have much to teach each other.”

With 104 students taking part in the pen pal program, the village’s residents are certainly kept occupied and entertained with letters constantly being sent back and forth.

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