By Anthony Garzilli
Photo by Rob Kaufman
The letters come from throughout the county and the country — and even from overseas. They arrive with pleasant greetings from children and adults and bring a smile to the faces of the recipients.
The correspondence always begins with a question: Will you be my pen pal?
Life Care Center of Hilton Head, a nursing and rehabilitation center, is always looking to engage its residents. Earlier this year the center wondered if the residents would be interested in having pen pal relationships.
The response was positive.
In May the center posted on Facebook photos of residents who sought to correspond with people. They were pictured holding signs that reflected their topics of interest.
Eddie looked for someone who enjoys Atlanta Falcons football and gardening. Mary was interested in communicating about bowling, baseball and the Yankees. Ruby hoped her pen pal would correspond about church, basketball and current events.
And Georgetta looked for someone who enjoys country music, church and collecting.
Morgan Wogenstahl, who was the Life Care Center’s activities director when the program launched, hoped the initiative would get a decent response.
She certainly didn’t expect what happened.
“It blew up more than I could have ever possibly imagined,” she said.
From the Lowcountry, Canada and England, the Facebook posts quickly spread and letters kept arriving. Hundreds of letters have arrived, with some residents receiving 40 each.
“We have had an overwhelming response,” Wogenstahl said.
The center has about seven residents who participate in the program. Some of them write their own letters and others get assistance from the staff. The letters range from brief notes saying that the person saw the Facebook post and thought they’d get along, to others who also sent gifts.
Eddie, the Falcons fan, has received hats and shirts and blankets from his favorite team’s rooters.
The program’s reach pleased Wogenstahl, with letters also having arrived from Texas and Washington state, among many areas of the country. There’s been a large variety of age groups that have sent letters, some handwritten and others typed out.
Wogenstahl said a “big surge” of letters came from a child care center from children as young as 5 and 6 years old.
Life Care Center executive director Sheri Boyles said she enjoys seeing the reaction of the residents.
“The fun part is seeing the residents light up with the amount of mail that they have gotten,” she said.
Wogenstahl, who noted there have been a few residents who already have had back-and-forth correspondence with letter writers, said the letters always brighten the day of the residents.
“I definitely see an improvement in a lot of their general everyday moods,” she said.
A lot of the residents have enjoyed learning about other people, and they like to be able to share their stories.
“We leave it up to the residents what they are comfortable sharing and who they are comfortable sharing it with,” Wogenstahl said.
Even though Wogenstahl recently left Life Care Center, she and Boyles said the program will continue (Kailey Smith has taken over the initiative) with new residents having an opportunity to participate, whether they are in long-term care or rehabbing for several weeks.
“It’s been so much more than I ever expected,” Wogenstahl said.