Pensioner Pen Pals

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Students from Padstow’s St Therese Primary School have been writing to residents at local nursing homes in a program designed to help build empathy, kindness and love by bringing generations together. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Students from Padstow’s St Therese Primary School have been writing to residents at local nursing homes in a program designed to bring generations together. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Despite there being more than 80 years between them, Marie Longely and Allana Hall have discovered one shared passion … each other’s friendship.

Their special bond was borne out of exchanging letters and becoming pen pals for the past six months. And this week the cursive correspondents finally got the chance to meet in person, bringing their friendship to life.

Proving it’s a common misconception that the best friendships are borne from a physical meeting, these unlikely friends agree each has gained so much from the experience.

Marie has discovered a way of staying connected in a world which relies on technology to keep in touch and her young friend has discovered a living link to the past.

Allana, 12, is one of more than 30 students from Padstow’s St Therese Primary School who have been writing to residents at local nursing homes in a program designed to help build empathy, kindness and love while providing a timeless solution to loneliness by bringing generations together.

They are both relishing the opportunity to connect the old fashioned way, getting a unique sense of each other not just from their handwriting but the way certain words are emphasised on paper.

Allana Hall, 12, from Padstow’s St Therese Primary School with Marie Longely her pen pal for six months. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Allana Hall, 12, from Padstow’s St Therese Primary School with Marie Longely her pen pal for six months. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

The Year 6 student said any worries about them not having anything in common were quickly dismissed after their first correspondence.

“At first I didn’t think we would have anything in common but we actually have heaps,” she grinned. “We both really love music and singing, my uncle and her son is a paramedic and she has a granddaughter born on the same day as me. And we both really like fairy floss.

“When I got my first letter from Marie I thought she was really funny and now that I have met her I was right.

“I am getting ready for high school next year but even though I am leaving school I will keep in contact with Marie and will continue writing to her, she is the best.”

For Marie, their friendship has been a lot of fun, and living proof that good company can be a lifesaver.

Students from Padstow's St Therese Primary School meet their pen pals from a local nursing home.. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Students from Padstow’s St Therese Primary School meet their pen pals from a local nursing home.. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

She said most of her family live out of Sydney so visitors can be few and far between which she concedes is simply a sad aspect of getting old.

“Allana has become such an important part of my life,” she smiled. “Knowing somebody cares about me and is interested in what I have to say makes such a big difference in life.

“It can be very, very lonely living in a village like this, so knowing I am going to receive a letter from her, really lifts my spirits.

“And she’s keeping me young at the same time. She’s keeping me up to date with all the new gadgets and phrases. She is a complete life changer and given me a real reason to keep going.”

Students from Padstow’s St Therese Primary School have met their pen pals from local nursing home. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Students from Padstow’s St Therese Primary School have met their pen pals from local nursing home. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

School principal Michelle Court said the program had produced such positive benefits for both the young and young at heart. She said watching the friendships form has been such a wonderful experience for all involved.

“These old people are so very lonely and really do look forward to not only receiving the letters but meeting up with the students,” she said. “One 94-year-old resident had a folder with all her letters in it and said she would proudly add her card to it.

“We’ve now found out that the nursing home has a choir and we are hoping to invite them again so they can perform for Kindergarten and Kindergarten can perform for them.

“This has become a very special activity for our school and one we hope to continue.”

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