Friendships forged in pen pal project between aged, disabled and school students

Handwritten letters exchanged between a group of 25 primary school students and aged care residents as part of a pen pal project has formed an intergenerational bond within the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie community.

A celebration was held at Marks Point Public School on May 31 to mark the end of the pen pal project which included years 4, 5 and 6 students from the school, Healthe Community Hunter Nursing clients and the social work department at the University of Newcastle.

The aim of the project is to create social connections and friendships between students, the aged and disabled.

Colleen Connolly and Liam Mortimer from the University of Newcastle said social connections are important, especially in today's society where technology is a popular method of communication.

"Connections with others on a deeper level can create feelings of acceptance and purpose and can also reduce stress," the pair said.

"The students were able to learn new and interesting things from their new pen pals and learn about their life experiences.

"This project was also a great way of maintaining a healthy mind set for clients and was evidently beneficial in building positive connections.

"This is especially important for individuals who may have experienced a loss or isolated from social connections."

This was the second year the project has been conducted between Marks Point Primary School and Healthe Community Hunter Nursing.

It is a 10-week program that sees the participants write purposeful letters to one another.

The project started with participants - 25 students and 25 Healthe clients - writing a letter of introduction to their pen pal.

A new topic was raised each week for the participants to engage with and write about.

Letter writing support was provided where necessary to overcome any barriers for the participants.

This year the students named the project Pen Pal Power: Making a New Friend. The project began on February 25.

On May 31, students were able to meet their pen pal face-to-face after 10 weeks of writing to one another, and to share what they gained by taking part in the project.

"This program recognises the value in helping our older clients and our clients with disabilities establish connections with young people to experience a greater sense of social inclusion and provide opportunities for both to learn new skills," Healthe state manager Dianne Cook said.

Healthe clients that took part in the project will be assessed to determine what impacts it had on their well-being, and to improve future programs.