You’ve got mail! Oregon teen enjoying corresponding with “pandemic pen pals”

Tammy Walro

        Like many high school seniors throughout the country, this spring has been nothing like Jaylin Olinger imagined.
        The COVID-19 pandemic has meant missing out on the end of the school year with her Clay High School classmates, and having to forgo all the senior events and rites of passage. It also meant no big celebration on her 18th birthday, which was May 6.
        However, the pandemic has brought one pleasant surprise for Jaylin – the start of new friendships with Janice, Joanne, Dorothy, Susan and Eleanor, all residents of the Gardens of St. Francis senior living community in Oregon.
        It all began just after Gov. Mike DeWine announced in mid-March that Ohio schools would close to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
        Jaylin, who lives with her grandparents, found herself at home without much to do after taking some time off from her job at Buffalo Wild Wings. “I got sick and took about two weeks off of work,” she said. “Then, my Nana wanted me to take another two weeks off because my Papa has cancer and he undergoes chemo, and we didn’t want to risk exposing him to anything.
        “I was just sitting at home – I couldn’t go anywhere or see friends, obviously – and my Nana brought up all the residents at Gardens of St. Francis, which is just down the road from our house, who weren’t able to see family because of the coronavirus.”
        Her grandmother, Lynn Olinger suggested Jaylin write to the residents. “I said, ‘Yeah, OK,’” Jaylin recalled. “And then I forgot.”
        A few days later, Lynn brought the subject up to her granddaughter again, this time offering to help Jaylin get started with her pen pal project.
        “She helped me write what was kind of like a prompt; we asked a few questions, like what’s their favorite restaurant, their favorite color, what they like to do, etc. – questions that would help get to know them more,” Jaylin said. “I also told them a little bit about myself.”
        Together, Jaylin and Lynn hand-wrote 20 letters on notebook paper, which they put in unaddressed envelopes and took to the Gardens of St. Francis.
        “We asked the staff to hand them out to whoever they thought would appreciate a letter and could write back to me,” Jaylin said. “We included a self-addressed, stamped envelope so they wouldn’t have to use their own stamps.”
        In less than a week, Jaylin started receiving responses, starting with three which arrived on the Monday after Easter.
        “It was actually very exciting to get letters back,” Jaylin said. “I typically never get mail unless I order something.
        Since then, Jaylin has been corresponding with the five ladies, who range in age from 80-98. She’s enjoying learning about her pen pals’ lives.
        “They tell me about their families and how many grandchildren they have, camping trips they took, where they come from, etc.,” she said. “The one lady said she learned embroidery in Florida; I told her after this pandemic, I’ll have to come and see her and she could teach me.
        “I took a photography class at Clay and I told one of the ladies that we would have a photo shoot after the quarantine,” Jaylin said.
        “It’s a slower process communicating because we’re writing letters,” she said. “When they reply, I write handwritten letters back to them,” she said.
        “One lady is 92 years old and her eyesight is very bad, so she gave me her number and I gave her my number so we doing a ‘phone pal’ kind of thing,” Jaylin said.
        “I have two wonderful grandparents, and it’s very nice and interesting to get to know the ladies I’m corresponding with,” she said. “It’s kind of sad because right now they’re quarantined and can’t really see their families.
        “I’m a teenager and when my Nana suggested writing 20 letters, I wasn’t excited about it,” Jaylin said. “But now I can’t wait to check the mail, and I read the letters right away.”


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