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We’re write here for you!

An innovative pen pal scheme with Jewish Care is helping older people feel less isolated and youngsters to connect with them through the art of letter writing

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

In an age of emails, instant messages and WhatsApps, the joy of letter writing is becoming a rarity – but one that is being rediscovered, thanks to an innovative scheme helping to bring generations together. 

Jewish Care’s pen pal scheme began just weeks after the country went into lockdown, with youngsters putting away their iPads and instead picking up paper and pen to write letters and cards, draw pictures and share photos of pets with older members of the community.

Even as restrictions eased up for many, the scheme has continued to connect young and old – with some discovering by virtue of Jewish geography that they are, in fact, related.

Among them is 90-year-old Doreen Wejchendler and 14-year-old West End child actor Aaron Gelkoff. 

Doreen, who lives in Gants Hill, says: “We’ve been writing letters back and forth and when Aaron told us he was in shows, my daughter realised the connection between our families and that we are distantly related!  

“I phoned up his grandfather, Barry, and know his great-aunt. It’s very nice that he’s writing, especially when I found out he was ‘mishpachah‘.” 

90-year-old Doreen Wejchendler and 14-year-old West End child actor Aaron Gelkoff.

 Chigwell resident Aaron, who attends West Hatch High School, already has many stage credits to his name, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Les Miserables, Caroline, or Change and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾.

Aaron says: “I’ve been part of Jewish Care’s MIKE leadership programme at Redbridge Jewish Community Centre (RJCC) for a while. That’s where I heard about the pen pal project and I wanted to get involved. 

“I know that going into lockdown must have been a real shock for people living on their own and they might have been finding it really difficult. 

 “I thought this was a nice way to make new friends and it’s a coincidence that our family is connected. I like writing to Doreen and we talk about our shared interests – we both spent our birthday in lockdown and we both have pets. Doreen sent me a photo of her cat, Charlie, and I sent her a photo of my dog, Roxy.” 

 Also taking part in the scheme is 12-year-old Colliers Row resident Harrison Nathan, who has been enjoying writing to 85-year-old Aubrey Green, from north London.  

Harrison’s mum, Victoria, said: “We saw that Jewish Care was asking for volunteers to write to its members at the beginning of lockdown and thought it would be a great opportunity for him to do something for the community. 

Aubrey and Harrison

“He understands how important it is to stay in touch, especially as Harrison has three great-grandparents in their 90s. He has enjoyed sharing lockdown stories and interests with Aubrey.” 

For his newly-acquired pen pal, there’s no doubt receiving his letters has brightened his days.

Aubrey says: “We’ve been writing to one another for a couple of months and it’s lovely that a young person like Harrison is taking the time to write letters to someone of an age like myself. It’s very important to stay connected and to keep a positive bright attitude, especially in these times. 

“We chat about ourselves and he tells me what team he supports. It’s a pleasure to do something like this.”

 Even pre-schoolers who have not yet mastered the art of writing have still managed to get involved by sending their colourful pictures.

Joyce Rogers, 88, from Essex, has regularly received letters from nearby resident Claire Hartley and her children, five-year-old Alex, and two-year-old Talia.

Letter from Joyce to a pen pal!

She says: “It’s so nice of Claire to take the time to write to me, especially as I’m sure she’s very busy with two children. The children are just adorable; they sent me lovely pictures they’d drawn, which
I have kept. 

“Claire told me her little boy was turning five soon, so I sent him a birthday card. I enjoy writing to them with the help of a volunteer, Joanne. I was going to the supportive community tea parties and Redbridge Jewish Community Centre. I miss it and hope we get back together soon.”

Claire says: “It has been such a pleasure writing to Joyce and receiving her letters in return. She is so thoughtful and kind. For Alex’s birthday, she sent him a card and stickers via the community centre, which forwarded it to me at home.

Joyce and Claire

“She also included some stickers for my daughter, Talia, so she wasn’t left out! I am so looking forward to the day we can meet in person for a cup of tea.”

Letter from Claire and her family to Joyce

 Speaking about the scheme, Alison Smardina, Jewish Care’s supportive communities officer, says: “We’re so pleased the pen pal project is connecting older and young people across the generations. 

“It’s really important for us to remember that many older people are still isolated at home and while they can’t socialise at community centres and supportive communities tea parties, the pen pal project has been a welcome alternative way to stay connected to the community.”

 

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