Pen pal program bridges generational gaps in Kamloops

By Jill Sperling
June 22, 2016 - 5:16pm

KAMLOOPS — These days you're more likely to send a quick text than sit down to write a letter. However, pulp and paper company Domtar is trying to change that. 

For months students from Summit Elementary have been writing letters to seniors living at Berwick on the Park Retirement Residence. It's part of Domtar's PaperPal program, which connects generations through letter writing while improving cognitive development and motor skills.

On Wednesday, June 22, the pen pals met and the strangers behind the hand-printed letters became friends. 

With twinkles in their eyes the residents of Berwick on the Park welcomed Grades 2 and 3 students into their home - finally putting faces to names. 

According to Mike Sun, Technical and Customer Services Manager with Domtar in Kamloops, the PaperPal project began in the United States in February and he quickly brought it north of the border. 

"I decided that I wanted to pilot the project in Kamloops," Sun said. "By the way, this is one of the very first (PaperPal) projects that we've had in Canada, and we're especially proud that it was held in Kamloops.

"We approached a teacher and asked her if she would like to participate and she said yes, and then we paired them off with Berwick, because of the close proximity between Summit Elementary and the retirement home."

During the visit, 24 students met 19 seniors. There were some nerves as students sat down to chat with their pen pals, but that quickly changed as the new found friends realized some common interests. 

Berwick resident, Doreen Chutter, had learned from her correspondence with pen pal, Jacob, that he collected insulators from the tops of power poles. 

"Jacob collects these, and I come from a ranch, and when they took out the railway I collected them," Chutter explained as she showed off an insulator she had given to her pen pal as a gift. 

Jacob said he had been looking forward to the meeting. 

"I was super excited," he said. "(It was) all I was thinking about all day. I didn't want to go out for recess, this is what I wanted to do."

The room filled with chatter as students and seniors exchanged stories, each teaching and learning from one another. 

"It brightens up your day," said Berwick resident, Janet Groseth. "They bring happiness with them all the time."

For many seniors, like Helen Keillor, writing the letters brought back memories of simpler times.

"When I was little ... we always had pen pals from all over," Keillor said. "Even in my grown-up years I liked writing to pen pals and I traveled quite a lot and so I met quite a few of the people that I had written to.

"I'd like to see that writing continues." 

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