With regular visitors unallowed due to the coronavirus pandemic, military veterans are looking for new ways to safely socialize with the outside world. And all you need is a pen and paper.
Christina Etchberger who is a military spouse recently launched the ‘Veteran Pen Pal Project’ to cheer up lonely veterans.
Inspired by something she saw on social media, Christina called up center recreation director Marilyn Woods one day and found her very receptive to the idea of having a Veteran Pen Pal Project.
Woods said that since the letters will be coming from outside, the staff will have to put on gloves and sanitize them before they’re shared with residents. Center officials are still working out the details of just how the sharing will be handled.
“As they come in, we’re going to get them out. We have plenty of veterans who have been talking about pen pals for a while, so this is something they’re really interested in and we pretty much have a list of who we know want to participate,” Woods said.
“Me personally, I’m excited about it because with COVID going on, there’s a lot of things that the veterans can’t do right now. They’ve lost the sense of socialization when it comes to the community,” she continued.
Before the pandemic, center residents were used to having visitors all the time. Now, they only see each other every day.
“So, them being able to connect with the outside, I think that’s something that’s really exciting for them to be connected with others that they don’t know. They love to chat with people and to give advice, and they love to share their knowledge and all that good stuff,” Woods said.
Corresponding with pen pals is a good cognitive activity that the veterans can do, and they’re looking forward to it just as she is, she added.
Etchberger said some people might feel comfortable RSVP-ing for the “My Veteran Pen Pal Project” event on the “It’s a Military Life” Facebook page or even posting a photo there. Others can simply do the following:
First, write a letter or make a craft. The website suggests a lot of flat items that can go inside a mailing envelope, such as as photos, cards, crafts, complimentary pens, stickers, postcards, seed packets, Post-It notes, little candies, maps or interesting articles that might help the veteran get to know his or her pen pal a little bit better.
On the back of the envelope you might write, “Looking for a pen pal who likes (fill in the blank).”
“For example, I had my son’s envelope say, ‘looking for a pen pal who likes planes.’ So maybe that would focus in on an Air Force veteran. Other friends, their interests might be different. It could even be, ‘looking for a pen pal who likes to give advice to military spouses.’ So that’s one way to connect with particular veterans of like interests,” Etchberger suggested.
Then mail your letter directly to the Lawton-Fort Sill Veterans Center, 501 SE Flower Mound Road, Lawton, OK 73501.
As for topics and general tone, remember to keep it positive. Thank-you’s are always welcome and so are crafts, as are requests for advice. Veterans love sharing their stories. Let them know you’re there as a friend through the Pen Pal Project.