You’ve Got Mail

At age 97, Les Simmler, like many other senior adults, felt disconnected during COVID-19 from the church he attended for many years, Baptist Church of West Chester (BCWC), in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Concerned about seniors feeling left behind, Leah Cramer, 17, came up with a plan.

Cramer, a Christian education youth representative at BCWC, pitched a pen pal program idea to church leadership. They agreed to do it. Soon after, 14 seniors were paired with 10 youths.

Cramer said Simmler, a former mail carrier of 40 years and a veteran, believed he wasn’t a good candidate for the program, claiming he was too old and didn’t know anything about computers or social media. But the handwritten letters he began to receive started a chain of correspondence.

“He was such a cool person to reach out to,” Cramer said. “He told me he hadn’t written a handwritten letter since he was in the Army in 1943.”

Through their connection, Cramer learned about Simmler’s military tours throughout Europe and North Africa, and what his daily life is like now—which includes driving and often bringing coffee to his son’s workplace.

“I think I’ve had a good life,” Simmler told her.

Some of the senior pals are unable to write, so they have become “phone pals” with young people at the church. But regardless of the communication method, both sides have been blessed. The older adults have made new friends and get to share their life experiences. The youth have learned about seniors like Bob Pyle, who grew up at the church and was baptized outside in the snow; Marge Colson, who has traveled extensively; and Rose Alleva who keeps pet ducks. Chloe Colson, a youth, and Beryl Bradley, a senior, have formed a bond over their shared love of Harry Potter.

The program is simple, but the impact is inestimable. “Human contact is so important, and when we were in quarantine, not having that [was challenging],” Cramer says. “A lot of the older generation aren’t able to go on Zoom or use technology, but handwritten letters are an art form of connection.

“When I get older I’ll know that this program is one of the most meaningful things I’ve done in my life,” Cramer says.

H.L. Hussmann
H.L. Hussmann

H.L. Hussmann has traveled the world leading mission trips and training Christians in outreach and apologetics. He is the author of "God's Greatest Passion: Every Christian, Everywhere, Sharing Jesus" and "Letters From a Martyred Christian." He is currently planting Daylight Church in Louisville, Ky.