For months, about 70 third-graders at York Haven Elementary School wrote to their pen pals at the Country Meadows retirement home in York, practicing their letter-writing skills and asking questions about what life was like when the retirees were young.
Wednesday, the students traveled to Country Meadows to meet their pen pals for the first time.
Residents — many of them seasoned grandparents — coaxed even the most shy students into playing checkers, talking about the sports they like to play or naming their favorite ice cream flavors during icebreaker games.
The residents and students each received and wrote about three letters over the course of the school year. Two students wrote to one resident, and that resident wrote back separate letters.
The interaction: Parker Fink, 9, said his favorite part about writing the letters was to learn about people "living in the 1900s."
"It was to know that there was another person who has more experiences," he said.
Parker wrote to Bert Shewell, who wrote about ice cream, pancakes and being in the Boy Scouts growing up. Shewell, 96, and his wife, Doris, joined the pen pal program two years ago because they both love children.
"At this age they have the biggest imaginations," Bert Shewell said.
Doris Shewell, 93, said she is also involved in a reading program between County Meadows and York Haven, where she visits the school and reads with first-graders. The students in both programs impress her.
"I was amazed that these children know so much," she said.
Dennis Hamsher, chaplain manager at Country Meadows, said the pen pal program and others like it further the community's goal of getting residents involved in "purposeful service."
"There isn't a better way than to get involved with an elementary school," he said.
Getting involved: The pen pal program started six years ago, organized by Hamsher and Sue Howe, guidance counselor at York Haven in the Northeastern School District.
Hamsher said residents look forward to receiving their letters — several asked him when they were coming when the harsh winter delayed the letter schedule.
Howe said the program gives an opportunity for students to learn about other generations and learn to ask questions about the personal histories of other people. It's also a chance for the residents to interact with younger generations, especially if grandchildren aren't nearby, she said.
Bert and Doris Shewell have 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. But those closest of them live in Collegeville in Montgomery County, with some as far away as South Carolina and Georgia.
"We really enjoy the children," Doris Shewell said of getting involved in the pen pal program.
— Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.