Dear pen pal: Local nursing homes see success with writing program

Nursing home facilities in Mineral Wells and Weatherford are seeing a tremendous response from the community through their new pen pal program.

Local nursing home officials are excited after a great response from a pen pal program initiated for their residents.

Mineral Wells Nursing and Rehabilitation and Senior Care at Holland Lake recently posted pictures of their residents seeking pen pals and have both received an outpouring from their communities and beyond in response.

“As you know, they’re not able to have visitors in the building and it’s been about five months, so this just kind of gives them that connection to the outside world. A lot of their families are really good about doing FaceTime visits and they come and do window visits, but you can kind of see a whole new excitement with them,” Mineral Wells Nursing and Rehabilitation Director of Marketing and Admissions Mandy Koenig said. “When they get a new letter and we take it to their room their whole face lights up. It’s just something different and it’s kind of surprising in this day and age most of them are hand-written, not typed, and very personalized so it’s touching that people have taken the time to do that.”

Senior Care at Holland Lake Administrator Donna Tillman said they were trying to find ways to keep their residents engaged and got the idea from seeing other longterm care facilities do it.

“They can’t leave the building, they can’t have visitors, they have pretty much been in their rooms now since the middle of March, so we decided to try this,” Tillman said. “We’ve been so blessed in this pandemic world we’re living in. We’ve had craft things dropped off, magazines, books, pens and pencils, and everyone just wants to do something. We live in such a wonderful community and I can’t say that enough. It’s a very trying time, but at the same time, everyone is so generous and loving and so this was just another thing for us to do with the residents and staff.”

Koenig said their residents have received letters and gifts from not only the local community but from all over the United States and soon, the world.

“They’ve been getting so many letters and gifts,” Koenig said. “We haven’t received these yet, but I did have one lady that called and she lives in Spain and is going to be sending postcards from Spain. One of our [residents] that said she loved mystery books, she’s received probably over 30 mystery books in the mail and a lot of them are just anonymous. It’s just awesome.”

Tillman said they’re in the process of getting a mail drop-off put in at their facility.

“The staff is going to be involved in helping them write their replies because we sure want to reply back, so we’re talking about setting up a writing station so we can bring them up one at a time and help them answer and get them sent back. Mail is more important now than it has been in a long time, just that touch from the outside,” Tillman said. “We’re even trying to set up a little drop-off mailbox outside the door so if they want to drive by and drop letters off and not have to spend the postage. We have a class in Poolville, fifth grade I believe, that’s going to adopt us and they’re going to come drop all the letters off.”

But so far, the most memorable participant has been a 12-year-old Mineral Wells resident.

“We did the pen pal [Facebook] post and the very next day we had a 12-year-old little girl who dropped off 12 gifts because that’s how many pen pals we posted on our Facebook page. Each gift you could just tell she put so much time and effort and thought into. Each one of them had several different gifts according to what they said they liked on the post — art sets, crayons, paint sets this one lady said she liked dogs and so she got a stuffed dog, books,” Koenig said. “She’s a student here in Mineral Wells and she asked her mom if she could go and get some stuff for them. Each letter was customized, she talked about their likes and interests. What I thought was so precious was she gave each one of them her phone number so if they get lonely they can call and talk to her. She’s been getting phone calls from several of the residents.”

Tillman said people are welcome to send a letter to a specific person that was listed on their Facebook page, or just send in a generalized letter.

“They can either adopt those people by name or we say just address to ‘my pen pal’ and we can get it to somebody that might not have signed up for it yet,” Tillman said.

Senior Care at Holland Lake Activity Director Jennifer Walker said starting this program is like a light at the end of the tunnel.

“With everything that’s been going on — the COVID, the protesting — it’s like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel because it’s so easy to see the negative,” Walker said. “This pen pal thing is bringing a positive to it.”

Koenig said they’ve been overwhelmed with the response their residents have received.

“We’ve been super overwhelmed by people all over the place that saw our post and took time out of their busy schedules to write to people they don’t even know just to brighten their day,” Koenig said. “It just kind of restores your faith in humanity.”

To check out pen pals for Senior Care at Holland Lake or Mineral Wells Nursing and Rehabilitation visit the facilities’ Facebook pages. 

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