Pen Pals: Connecting Writers with Frontline Workers

Dear Rhode Island is on a mission to connect writers with frontline workers through letters of gratitude

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In the early days of COVID, Jessica David of Providence found herself writing more letters. “It started as a way to process what I was feeling, and to reach out to other people when truly connecting seemed so difficult,” she begins. “What I didn’t fully appreciate was the sheer joy of receiving letters in return.” David reached out to What Cheer Writers Club, the nonprofit writers community where she is a member, to pitch the idea of hosting a statewide letter exchange. The notion received an immediate green light, was named Dear Rhode Island, and was met with such enthusiasm that preparations are currently underway for a special second round, making it the perfect time to talk pen pals with co-founder David; WCWC’s Susannah Morse, program associate; Jodie Vinson, program manager; and Jillian Winters, general manager.

HEY RHODY: How did Dear Rhode Island come to be?

DAVID: I posted about my idea on Twitter.

VINSON: And I noticed it! Part of the club’s mission has always been to provide community to writers, who often work alone. With the pandemic, mediating that isolation became a central focus of our programs, and Dear Rhode Island plays a unique role in providing a recipient for our musings on the page. A physical letter also brings the presence of someone else – along with their experiences of these times – into our households in a tangible way.

MORSE: After sharing a few stories about the pleasures of receiving mail during lockdown, we all started ruminating about the letter-writing rituals of authors, and the historical role letters have played in nurturing cultural and artistic exchange.

HR: How does the pen pal matching happen?

WINTERS: As of right now, all pen pal matching is random. Collecting interests is something we would love to do, but just don’t currently have the capacity for. The signup form allows you to choose what your primary and secondary preferred languages are.

HR: Are pen pals limited to in Rhode Island?

DAVID: Our focus is on Rhode Island, because this is our community, but we don’t exclude anyone who signs up. Everyone who signs up has some kind of connection to Rhode Island.

HR: What are the logistics of the letters to frontline healthcare heroes?

VINSON: The current Healthcare Heroes round is a special edition of the program to give Rhode Islanders a chance to thank healthcare workers who continue to work tirelessly amidst the pandemic. Letter writers can sign up by March 20 to be matched with a local hospital or healthcare facility where their letter will reach someone on the front lines. We are partnering with several healthcare organizations to distribute the thank you letters. Our goal is to organize this letter sending campaign without adding undue burden to healthcare workers. For this round, there will be no expectation for recipients to write back.

MORSE: We’re trying to keep the process as simple as possible for those on the front lines. Any frontline healthcare worker whose organization hasn’t paired with us yet is welcome to reach out before March 20 so we can get something set up!

Peer-to-peer rounds will resume in April 2021. Learn more at DearRI.com

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