Pen Pals program in Allamakee County unites third graders with senior citizens ...

Third graders in several schools in Allamakee County have discovered what it’s like to get a letter from someone else. The students at St. Patrick School (such as pictured in the photo below) and East Elementary School (such as pictured in the photo at center) in Waukon and at New Albin Elementary School (such as pictured above) - 120 students in all - participated in pen pal programs this fall. The letters were answered by volunteers from the Northeast Iowa RSVP program, which serves Allamakee, Howard and Winneshiek Counties.

The program involved 23 St. Patrick students - 12 students in teacher Martha Byrnes’ class and 11 in teacher Sandy Riese’s class. The two teachers encouraged the students to write to their RSVP pen pals about their family, their pets, their classrooms - anything that the students thought would be interesting to the pen pals. Students received only a first name of their pen pal. Letters were collected from the third graders in September, October and November, then sent to the RSVP volunteers.

Byrnes says students in her classroom were excited in October when they received letters from their RSVP pen pals. The volunteers responded to the stories and questions that were part of the letters in September.  Byrnes says when her students received the pen pal letters in October, their reaction was, “Wow! They really wrote us back.” She says her students learned to open up and talk to their pen pals about their schools and hobbies.

After writing letters in September, October and November, it was time for the St. Patrick third graders to meet their pen pals in person in December. The gathering was held at St. Patrick School, with each student attending receiving a stick with a picture of an animal that matched the picture on the RSVP volunteer program pen pal’s stick (such as pictured in the photo at right below). The students were happy to meet the volunteers, says Byrnes. “They talked almost non-stop for 40 minutes,” she says, discussing their pets and their families and their hobbies “It was a good experience,” says Byrnes, who praises RSVP for the pen pal gathering which was “so well-organized.” She says the event ended with hugs among all the pen pal letter writers.

The RSVP pen pal program will start in Howard County this coming spring, while the pen pal program in Winneshiek County is in operation for the entire school year. For more information about joining the Northeast Iowa RSVP Volunteer Program and participating in this or other volunteer opportunities, contact the RSVP office Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at 563-277-5181 or Submitted photos.