Pen and paper build bonds between seniors and third graders

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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Third graders and senior citizens in Shelby County are finding an old way to connect.

The pen pal program recently launched at Ave Maria Assisted Living in Bartlett.

On Monday, they wrote Christmas letters.

"I wrote hope your Christmas is as pleasant for you as mine is," wrote resident Carrie Jo Williams.

The 91-year-old retired principal carried a giant smile during the activity as well as the other residents.

They all need full-time care.

"All of the residents have some form of dementia or Alzheimer's," said recreational therapist Amber Brown. "They have been writing back and forth."

Brown and art therapist Kerry Curtis got creative with the care they need.

"We got the idea to connect and do some inter-generational work," said Curtis.

So they launched the pen pal program with third graders down the road at St. Francis of Assisi School.

So far, it's helped improve the seniors' memories, and they feel loved.

"I love the contact," said Williams.

Williams is pen pals with Avery Giordano.

The eager third grader told us she also cherishes the letters she receives from Williams.

"She told me she likes to listen to music, and she likes to write," said Giordano. "I feel happy, because she is able to express her feelings."

Her classmates also told us they enjoy it.

"We both love dancing and both love riding horses," said student Carrington Connolly.

It's helping their letter-writing skills and teaching them valuable lessons.

"At third grade, the children are just starting to understand they are a part of a bigger family other than their family or their school," said their teacher Diana Kozlowski.

And all it took was pen, paper and something Williams knows all about: an open heart.

"That love should abound. That's my favorite prayer," she said.

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