Pen Pals program unites third graders with senior citizens

Third-graders were able to meet their senior citizen pen pals at an in-person event in December. Each student found their pen pal by matching the animals on their sticks. (submitted)

Third graders in several Allamakee County schools have discovered what it’s like to receive a letter. The students at St. Patrick’s School and in the Allamakee and Eastern Allamakee School Districts, 120 students in all, participated in pen pal programs last fall. The letters were answered by volunteers from the Northeast Iowa RSVP program, which serves Allamakee, Howard and Winneshiek Counties.

The program involved 23 St. Patrick students — 12 students in teacher Martha Byrnes’ class and 11 in teacher Sandy Reese’s class. The two teachers encouraged the students to write to their RSVP pen pals about their family, pets, classrooms — anything that the students thought would be interesting to the pen pals.

Students received only the first name of their pen pal. Letters were collected from the third graders in September, October and November, then sent to the RSVP volunteers.

Byrnes said students in her classroom were excited in October when they received letters from their RSVP pen pals. The volunteers responded to the stories and questions that were part of the letters in September. Byrnes said when her students received the pen pal letters in October, they were very excited. She said her students learned to open up and talk to their pen pals about their schools and their hobbies.

After writing letters in September, October and November, it was time for the St. Pat’s third graders to meet their pen pals in person in December. The gathering was held at St. Patrick’s School, with each student attending receiving a stick with a picture of an animal that matched the picture on the RSVP volunteer program pen pal’s stick. The students were happy to meet the volunteers, Byrnes said. “They talked almost non-stop for 40 minutes,” she said, discussing their pets and their families and their hobbies.

“It was a good experience,” said Byrnes, who praised RSVP for the pen pal gathering which was “so well-organized.” She said the event ended with hugs among all the pen pal letter writers.

The RSVP pen pal program will start in Howard County this coming spring, while the pen pal program in Winneshiek County is in operation for the entire school year.

For more information about the Northeast Iowa RSVP Volunteer Program, call 563-277-5181 or email

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