Fostering Connections Between Generations Through the Written Word: RSVP Looking for Volunteers for the Pen Pal Program

penpal for press release

Do you remember the joy of receiving a letter as a child? Even with the introduction of technology into classrooms, nothing compares to ripping open an envelope from a pen pal and devouring the contents of a letter! Genuine excitement, happy dancing, and gigantic smiles fill the classroom on the days that Pen Pal letters are delivered to the school, and students can’t wait to write back to their new Pen Pal friends. Volunteer opportunities to help share these magical moments with third and fourth graders in Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, Kossuth, and Palo Alto Counties are available with Northwest Iowa RSVP.

Northwest Iowa RSVP, a volunteer program for individuals 55 or above, is looking for volunteers to connect with students through letters as part of the local Pen Pal program.

Pen Pals benefits students by allowing them to practice the art of letter writing, increase literacy skills, build positive intergenerational relationships, and improve school-related engagement. In addition, volunteers exercise their minds, boost happiness levels, and connect socially with a different generation by sharing life stories and lending a listening ear. During the 2020/2021 academic year, RSVP volunteers in Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, Kossuth, and Palo Alto counties connected with 274 students through the Pen Pal program.

“I can’t speak highly enough of this program. Not only are students becoming better writers, but they are also forming relationships with people who bring so much experience to the table! Love this program!” remarked Jennie Stevenson at Fairview Elementary School.

RSVP needs many volunteers this year to sustain and expand the current Pen Pal program. Volunteers will receive a project orientation and written information about the student pen-pal. Each volunteer will write three letters during the school program. In addition to writing letters, RSVP will host a finale Meet and Greet, an in-person event lasting about an hour for students and volunteers to meet one another. Adjustments to the Meet and Greet plans will be made to fit any potential pandemic restrictions.

Pen Pal Volunteers may write to a student in any of the schools served by Northwest Iowa RSVP volunteers, even if the school is in a different county than them. The pen pal project is also ideal for snowbirds, who migrate to warmer southern locales during the winter. Students love receiving letters about their pen pal’s travels or winter destination, as well as personal anecdotes and stories.

The first batch of letter-writing is in the Fall Semester and begins in September or October and ends before the holidays; this serves Fairview Elementary in Spencer, Forest Ridge in Estherville, and North Union Elementary in Swea City.

The second timeframe is in the Spring Semester, typically beginning in January, February, or March and ending in March, April, or May. The Spring Semester timeframe serves Lucia Wallace Elementary in Algona, Bishop Garrigan Elementary in Algona, Estherville-Lincoln-Central Elementary in Estherville, North Union Elementary in Fenton, Okoboji Elementary in Okoboji, Sacred Heart Elementary in Spencer, Spirit Lake Elementary in Spirit Lake, and West Elementary in Emmetsburg.

RSVP hopes to have enough volunteers to expand the Pen Pal program into Harris-Lake Park in Lake Park, Iowa Great Lakes Lutheran in Spencer, Graettinger-Terrill Elementary in Graettinger, and LuVerne Elementary in LuVerne for this upcoming academic year.

AmeriCorps, a federal agency and the parent organization for the RSVP program, brings people together to tackle the country’s most pressing challenges through national service and volunteering. AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Senior volunteers serve with organizations dedicated to improving communities and promoting service to others as a cornerstone of American culture. Learn more at AmeriCorps.gov.

Northwest Iowa RSVP has been meeting community needs in partnership with Iowa Lakes Community College since 1977.

If interested in helping to improve a student’s literacy skills while enjoying a positive relationship with a child, call Dawn Bernhard, the Northwest Iowa RSVP Director, at 515.295.8522 or email at dbernhard@iowalakes.edu. Also, if interested in joining a Fall Semester program, please get in touch with Bernhard by Friday, September 3.