Pen pal program helping make connections

SHELTON — As the pandemic forces people apart, Maura Gualtiere is creating connections with young people an old-fashioned way — letter writing.

Gualtiere, the children’s librarian at Plumb Memorial Library known to all as “Miss Maura,” recently started a pen pal program for children ages 5 to 10 years old. She hopes to get children off Zoom and Google Meets and work on their reading and writing while building a lasting friendship.

"When I was a kid one of the things I most enjoyed was having a pen pal,” Gaultiere said, adding that she had pen pals in Florida and Nova Scotia, Canada, in her youth.

“Since I am unable to have programs in the library and I’m missing my library friends, I have created this unique correspondence program that gets us off our computers and uses pencils and paper and the postal service, too,” Gualtiere added.

She said she started the program not knowing how much interest it would generate. She soon learned how popular this idea was with the library community.

Gualitere created pen pal kits — with instructions, paper, envelopes, stamps, writing utensils, a list of suggested monthly writing topics and other “goodies” — for 12 youngsters. Less than a month later, all spots are filled, but Gualitere said she still welcomes letters from any children in that age group.

Pen pals are people who regularly write to each other, particularly via postal mail. With that in mind, Gualitere asks that children write her two letters a month for four months.

"This may seem like a big commitment, but it is only eight letters total,” Gualitere said. “I promise when your child writes me, I will write them back."

Now Gualitere regularly receives letters, with children writing a couple paragraphs. The children — two of whom are former Shelton residents who recently moved to Taiwan — talk about themselves, their school and their pets, Gualitere said.

“Some even draw pictures of their pets for me,” Gualitere said.

She then responds with some two pages about her life and how it might relate to something she read in their letter.

“You want to try and make a connection,” she said. “I want to engage them … hook them. I want them to get to know me. I put stickers on the letters and the envelopes. I want them to be excited to know a letter is coming to them from me.”

She said she has received 14 letters, but wants more. Those children, ages 5 to 10, looking to become pen pals with Miss Maura can send letters to Plumb Memorial Library, Att: Miss Maura, 65 Wooster St., Shelton, CT 06484.

Gualitere posts pen pal videos on her Miss Maura’s Programs Facebook Page, where she offers advice, books featuring Pen Pals and writing letters and writing encouragement, too.