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Kids, seniors reach out via pen and paper

Thornton pen pal program interesting for all ages


What started out as something new for some Thornton ten-year-olds has turned into a treat for senior citizens and could become an ongoing program.

A new pen pal program between a Thornton Elementary school’s fifth grade class and seniors at the city’s Active Adult Center began late last year.

Winona Musgrove, 83, a volunteer at the center, said there was a similar program years ago but it went away when the person in charge changed jobs. Nobody thought to bring it back.

“One of the ladies at the front desk handled it, but she got a promotion and moved,” Musgrove said. “We’d done it for several years at that point and really enjoyed it but when she moved along, it just stopped.”

That changed in August. Ten-year-old Cali Lehr, a Thornton fifth grader, said it sounded like fun and suggested the idea to her teacher and to Jennifer Ressl, recreation coordinator at the Active Adult Center

“I just thought it would be fun to do,” Lehr said. “It’s nice to have a connection with the older people, the seniors, to make them happy and then give them someone who is young. And for us, it’s nice to talk to someone who has lived their life.”

Ressl said the student and her stepfather approached her in the center.

“She just came up to the front desk and said she wanted to start a pen pal program,” Ressl said. “She just said she wanted to do this, and she’s a real leader and she initiated it.”

Ressl said she reached out to Musgrove, who calls the Friday Bingo games at the center, to coordinate things from the seniors’ side.

“I asked her to reach out to the Bingo players and tell them we were doing it,” Ressl said,

Musgrove said it’s been more work than she imagined. Cali helped line up 22 of her classmates to write letters to the seniors. Once those were delivered, Musgrove found 20 volunteers to write back.

“We didn’t have a great response at first because most of the people there today didn’t participate in the old one,” Musgrove said.

She took the her plea to a senior exercise program she participates in.

“One lady was so excited she asked for more than one child,” Musgrove said. “She took three. And then next week a lady from Bingo wanted four — two for her and two for her mother. So I got people to write to all the children.”

Musgrove and a couple of the other seniors agreed to write back to two or three students.


Cali said it’s been fun to learn about the seniors lives.

“My pen pal told me that she has been to all but two of the states in the United States,” Cali said. “That sound pretty fun.”

Cali’s stepfather, Kyle Lucas, said it’s nice to see kids working in a non-digital format.

“Kids don’t get to do that much with pen and paper,” Lucas said. “To me, it’s a much more personal way of communicating than, say, a text message. So giving them that experience was part of the overall intention.”

Musgrove and the seniors hosted a party in December to meet their correspondents.

“It’s nice having a little communication with the kids,” she said, “We get so used to communicating with other seniors, we forget what it’s like. And it was nice meeting them, they were so polite and so well behaved, it was amazing to see.”

They expect the program will continue, she said.

“When did the old one years ago, I kept in touch with some people I wrote to for a year afterward,” she said. “Eventually, they moved on. But I kept all of the letters in a file.”


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