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When the Pony Express Pen Pal Program was first introduced, volunteers stepped forward in droves. The program was launched at the beginning of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order early this spring. Karen Tomko, life enrichment manager at GreenFields of Geneva, was looking for ways for residents of the senior living community to stay engaged. Reaching out to Geneva-area neighbors through Facebook, Karen asked for individuals and families willing to become pen pals with residents. Thirty-six families promptly signed up, with more than 15 more joining in. “Families send letters to me, and I deliver them pony-express style to their apartments. I do the reverse with the letters the residents write,” said Karen.
Now, as autumn begins, pen pals are still keeping in touch. Some are even sending and/or receiving gifts from each other. Resident Marian Harmon recently received a beautiful edible arrangement from her pen pal.
Late last month, Karen arranged for some of the participants to meet their pen pals, for the first time, masked face-to-masked face. The four McCabe children: Payton (12), Frank (11), Charlie (6 ½), and William (5), met and visited with their pen pals, GreenFields residents Sally Odiorne and Ivy Johnson.
“What has surpassed my initial expectations regarding Pony Express has been the number of people in the Geneva area who wanted to be involved. I’m still getting random emails asking about it. Our residents are active and involved, so I knew a lot of them would participate, but the number of pen-pals has surprised me. And now, more than five months into it, I know it’s not just the novelty of the first couple of weeks,” said Karen. She is also pleasantly surprised by the program’s longevity. As kids are preparing for school to start, the Pony Express Pen Pal Program is still going strong.