Fairfax County

Fairfax County Students Spread Comfort Writing Letters to Local Seniors

A club called Elder Outreach was born, and with it, kindness and comfort spread through letters and cards created every month and delivered to nearby senior living communities.

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Although for most teenagers the idea of writing a letter is probably a non-starter, dozens of Fairfax County students have taken up the pastime thanks to a special club, all in the hopes of brightening the spirits of the elderly folks reading the notes. 

In Lorton, Virginia, 92-year-old Bernice Alexander reads from just one of the dozens of letters received at her senior living community. They were written by teenagers at South County High School, and some come with artwork, paintings and cheery posters, too. 

The students have sent about 1,000 letters and drawings so far. The impact is immediate and uplifting. 

“I think it's wonderful that they would take the time,” Alexander said. “And see how pretty they are?”

The letter writing campaign started in the fall of 2020 during the darker days of COVID-19, when students were still learning online. 

John Claude Shaffer said witnessing his own grandmother’s isolation gave rise to an idea. 

“It prompted me to spread kindness and comfort and support,” he said. 

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A club called Elder Outreach was born, and with it, kindness and comfort spread through letters and cards created every month and delivered to nearby senior living communities.

Student Jade Vann quickly joined, along with 90 others who have taken part. The teens start penning letters at club meetings in the school library and finish up at home. 

“I can write a letter when I get home from school or whenever I have time. It's just something that’s easy that can make someone’s day brighter,” Vann said.

Because of COVID-19, only small groups of students make the personal deliveries, usually spending a couple of hours with the seniors reading letters out loud or even providing some music.

That interaction is what Harmony at Spring Hill resident Dennis Martin likes best. 

“The thing that I found amazing was how much they looked forward to it. I thought, that’s strange. When I was your age, I never looked forward to talking to a bunch of old fogeys,” he said through laughs. 

But the club sponsor and school librarian said the benefit goes both ways, and she sees the effort as a perfect way to bolster students’ social and emotional health, both of which took a hit during the pandemic. 

“I know that if I'm feeling frustrated or sad, if I connect with somebody else and if I stop thinking about myself and think about somebody else... I think it’s really helpful,” Ronielle Romney said. 

The goal is to expand Elder Outreach, to inspire other high schools to follow their example and start their own program. 

“It’s done so much for me and I really want to continue this and really see more elderly people  impacted for the greater good,” Shaffer said. 

The students are hopeful that if the threat of COVID-19 infection lessens, even more of them can make personal visits to the seniors next school year. 

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