Founder’s pen-pal program grows with a $5k grant

Amy Garza, who helped develop the Pen Pals for Seniors program, was honored with the Tempe Connector award from Tempe Community Council. — Photo by Gabrielle Dunton

By Robyn Martinez

Loneliness increasingly poses a challenge to older adults, a concern that’s being confronted by the Tempe Elementary School District’s Pen Pals for Seniors program.

Thanks an economic boost from Tempe Community Council’s first Connector Awards program, the district’s efforts to provide a platform for people coming forward with ideas to combat social isolation and loneliness now have some deserved recognition.

After applying and presenting her own idea, Amy Garza, a senior visual communication specialist and the district’s Pen Pals for Seniors founder, was awarded $5,000 to continue to grow and enhance the program.

With the extra funds, Garza says she plans to focus on expanding the program to individuals who do not live in a senior center or who do not have access to a facility where a program like this is organized for them.

The funds will also be used to purchase stamps and envelopes, funding field trips to connect the pen pals face-to-face and creating writer starter packs, kits of notecards, stamps, pens and pencils to encourage them to write letters.

I am “so thankful to hear from people participating in the program that it has made an

impact in their life. Receiving this award will allow this program to do more,” Garza said.

Though Garza asked for just over $3,000, committee members said they believed so much in what she was doing that they increased their contribution to $5,000.

“Receiving more than I asked for was surprising, but was also a nice confirmation that what we are doing with this program is adding value to the community,” Garza said.

In its third year, the program has pen pals from Arredondo Elementary, Hudson Elementary and Ward Traditional Academy. Westchester Senior Center, Oakwood Creative Care and Friendship Village are current participating senior centers, with Elmcroft Senior Living soon to be added.

In the 2018-2019 school year, there were 172 pen pals (60 seniors and 112 students), with 800 letters exchanged.

Garza said she and her late grandmother wrote letters back and forth for years, part of the inspiration behind the program. She is grateful to be carrying on her grandma’s legacy in Tempe through the program, she said.

“Every letter written, every letter opened and read, every interaction, every face-to-face meet-up means one less lonely, isolated senior or student in our community. This program has touched more lives than I ever imagined,” Garza said.

“In many parts of the world, loneliness and social isolation are being considered a public health issue, and so many municipalities already know strong resilient communities are an effective way to tackle the issue,” Tempe Community Council said about the purpose of the Connector Award.

Tempe Community Council is investing up to $50,000 to help bring ideas to preventing loneliness to reality.

Information: tempeschools.org/penpals or amy.garza@tempeschools.org.

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