WEST CHESTER – Communication is the key.
These days, young people across America are texting from their phones to connect with friends and family when they’re not together in person.
However, some older people do not text and use contemporary computer technology. Some older people do, many don’t.
For older people unable to use popular digital apps like Zoom and Facetime to see and talk to other people, the isolation caused by the pandemic has only worsened.
In the wake of the pandemic, members of the youth group at West Chester Baptist Church, 221 South High St., have decided to act.
They began writing letters to the elderly who had not attended church since the pandemic, as well as to people who had not attended virtual services through Zoom.
The project began last fall when Leah Cramer, 17, joined the church’s Christian Education Board as a youth counselor.
Participants discussed the isolation of older people living at home, Cramer said on Tuesday. It was at this point that she suggested that young people “connect by writing letters”.
In December, correspondence between the new correspondents began.
Cramer sent out 27 senior correspondence forms to fill out, and she picked them up in early December.
“We started to match everyone based on their responses,” Cramer said. Thirteen Elders responded who were then matched with 10 young members.
One of the participants is Chloe Colson, a fifth grader. She is the award recipient of the American History Essays competition sponsored by the Chester County Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She shared her award-winning article with her correspondent, Beryl Bradley.
Bradley then sent Colson a congratulatory letter and recently sent him an Easter card.
Cramer said some young and senior couples communicate via Zoom and email while writing letters.
She said her generation didn’t write letters. Communication is virtual.
“Our seniors really need these connections,” Cramer said.
“Since they were older, they’ve had so much life experience,” Cramer said, adding that learning the stories of the 13 older people participating in penpal matches has been one of the biggest lessons for she.
Due to the senior-young ratio, Cramer ended up hiring four correspondents.
Cramer attends Downingtown Area High School, virtually. She is heading to West Chester University in the fall and is currently taking college courses as part of Downingtown’s partnership with Delaware Community College. His passion and his future career is education.
When Cramer graduates from Downingtown on June 6, the occasion will also mark her birthday.
Church leader Elberta Clinton said Leah Cramer was a great woman.
“Her church is very proud of her and honored to have her as one of us,” Clinton said.
Also during the pandemic, the church launched a program called Spy Smile.
Spy Smiles was born to let the church know about the good things that are happening during the pandemic, Clinton said. Inspirational information is emailed to church members. Topics of interest range from recent awards announcements to recognizing a young person for doing a good deed.
And recently, Cramer shared with other church members and peers some of the life story she learned from one of her penpals. Her name is Leslie Simmler from West Chester.
“The Pen Pal program connects our young people with the young at heart,” Cramer said.
World War II veteran Simmler, 96, began attending West Chester Baptist Church as a child. He was baptized in 1937 in the place.
Cramer said when he replied to his very first letter in December, he “mentioned that he thought I should find a younger pen pal because he had not written a letter since he was in the office. army – 1943-1946 – and he didn’t know everything about technology.
Still, “I wrote to her anyway, saying there was no pressure to respond, but I hope to hear from you.”
After the participants were matched, stamp books were mailed to the 13 seniors to make it easier for them to rewrite the letters.
“Well, Les returned his stamps in his next letter,” Cramer said. “My family and I laughed as it seemed like he didn’t want me to write to him, but he kept sending letters back. The following letter was a total surprise.
Instead of a one-page page, Simmler delved into it the third time around and shared some incredible highlights from his life.
“He explained his war history,” Cramer said.
Simmler graduated from West Chester High School in June 1942 at age 17.
He enlisted in the United States Army in 1943. During World War II, and made several tours through Europe and North Africa. He went on a mission to help bring home the wounded at the end of the war.
When the Army fired him in 1946, Simmler eventually began a career in the United States Postal Service, working in Chester County in that field for over 40 years as a letter carrier.
In his third letter to Cramer, Simmler also included a map of where he is staying in Florida, Cramer said. He now spends his winters in Florida and returns to West Chester from spring to fall.
“I think I had a great life, your friend,” the veteran wrote to Cramer.
And this spring, Simmler returned home from Florida to live the good life in Pennsylvania.
He has stayed in touch with his neighbors, family, friends and church despite the pandemic. In fact, he recently celebrated his grandson’s wedding.
On April 1, Simmler also met Cramer in person at his home alongside his mother. They stayed for an hour and discussed life, family, friends, faith, and the future.
“He’s just a really cool guy,” she said, adding that her mind was sharp.
Today, Cramer said what faith means to her is, “to have these connections with people and to remind them that God is still with us even during this very difficult time. “
Cramer said it’s also important to maintain strong relationships and connections.
“We are stronger together,” she said.
Cramer has stated that his favorite Bible verse is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans that I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to make you prosper and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. “”