SPARTANBURG, South Carolina
Robert Fox and his new friend, Stéphanie, both share a love of music, amusement parks and animals.
The two became pen pals and wrote letters to each other during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fox, an 87-year-old Army veteran and resident of TerraBella in Spartanburg, and Stephanie, 15, shared stories.
Stephanie recently asked Fox about her first love. In her letter, she asked: “Please share a story about your first love”.
“I told him about my wife,” Fox said. “She was 15, I was 17 and I was already in the military at that time. I told him what life was like in the military with a woman and three young boys. We lived in Hawaii and Italy, but I was stationed in other places like Japan and Korea, places she couldn’t go. Having to leave my family was difficult because I was worried about them, but it was what I had to do at the time.
Fox said it was important for TerraBella residents to receive correspondence letters during the pandemic because the assisted living facility was not authorized to receive visitors. Many assisted-living residents felt isolated and alone when their families and friends were not allowed to visit them.
Fox said he remembers serving as a mail clerk in the military during the Korean War and seeing the disappointment on soldiers’ faces when they didn’t receive letters from home. Fox wrote to a friend in his hometown of Inman and asked if he could encourage people to become soldier correspondents in Korea.
His friend Jim Everhart then sent him an excerpt from the Inman Times, along with an ad he ran in the newspaper asking locals to become correspondents with soldiers.
Home Replace Senior Care helped organize the current letter writing campaign. The Spartanburg Company provides personal care, companionship, meal preparation, light housekeeping, and other services to seniors.
And for Audrey Martin, director of community relations for Home Place, that included doing her part to help reduce that loneliness that so many older people in the area felt during the pandemic.
“So far in Canada and the United States, more than 7,000 pen pal letters have been sent to seniors,” said Martin. “Different franchises may choose to distribute the letters to the community. That’s where Home comes in instead. We have delivered over 100 letters to seniors in the Spartanburg community.
HOW TO BECOME A PENPAL WITH A SENIOR?
Becoming a correspondent is easy. Community members can send letters, photos or video messages to readytocare.com/penpals to create a meaningful connection with a senior. They can also designate a senior to receive a letter – or even request a letter themselves – by contacting [email protected]
Home Place will take care of everything from verification to delivery. Parents and guardians are also encouraged to involve children in the letter writing experience.
TerraBella resident Peggy Henthorn, 87, received her first letter about a month ago from a young girl named Allie from Arkansas. Allie included a photo of herself in the letter asking how Henthorn was handling the pandemic.
Henthorn is hoping to write Allie soon, but she is still recovering from the aftermath of having COVID-19 a few months ago.
She says months without visitors have been difficult for residents, but staff have done what they can to make things better for them, such as planning weekly events and activities for residents.
“I enjoyed receiving this letter from Allie and hope to respond to her soon,” Henthorn said.
Brooke Hargett, director of health and wellness at TerraBella, says residents are elated when they receive a letter from someone and are especially intrigued when the letters come from different parts of the country.
“It certainly boosted morale,” Hargett said. “One of our favorite letters was from a single mother of a toddler child. How they were at home and isolated during the pandemic. Two generations and completely different circumstances, but our resident really identified with her. With isolation, not being able to go anywhere. Feeling alone in many ways.