The Western Illinois University Rotaract Club has developed a PenPal program in partnership with Macomb's Edison School.
The idea recruits volunteers from WIU faculty, staff and students to write five letters to fifth grade students over the course of the academic year. The final letter will be written in April to wish students well on their next academic year.
The remaining letters, or cards are written around holidays, such as Thanksgiving or Valentine's Day. About 100 representatives from WIU have volunteered to be part of the program and they are matched with 81 students spanning three classrooms at Edison.
The PenPal program is run by WIU student Lisette Rivera, a senior biology major, of Chicago. She said the idea for the partnership came from her time as a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, before transferring to WIU.
"I joined a club called Minority Students for the Advancement of Public Health," she said. "One of the things they emphasized was that the majority of these students did not have any family members attend a college/university, and they started this program as a way to encourage these students to keep pursuing their education and making connections with college students. I found this program profoundly meaningful as a first generation college student myself."
The goal of the program is to offer mentoring to the students and encouraged them in their education. The students write letters back in an effort to practice their grammar skills.
"Our students absolutely love having pen pals," said Edison fifth grade teacher Lindsay Schwerer. "This has been obvious by the number of times that the kids inquire about when they will be getting their next letter from their pen pal. They very much have enjoyed feeling connected to someone outside of school."
Rivera said her intention is to establish a legacy for the program under the WIU Rotaract Club so the program will continue to benefit youth in Macomb.
"I believe that the PenPal program not only helps promote fifth grade students to consider postsecondary education, but also teaches WIU students and faculty from all over the world to find harmony and connection in this beautiful and proud community," she said.
Rotaract brings people ages 18 and older together to exchange ideas with community leaders, develop professional skills and have fun while engaging in service.
For more information about the program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.