Photos Courtesy of Rachel Shwartzer and Samantha Fragin
What do you get when you mix a global pandemic and a large amount of free time on your hand? The answer for juniors Samantha Fragin and Rachel Shwartzer lay in creating a club that rediscovered the connection of pen pals. The Pen 2 Paper Club follows a buddy system and aims to connect a member of the club with an elementary school student from Easterly Parkway. There are two simple steps: a member writes a letter, their buddy writes one back, and the process continues on.
The club is led by co-presidents Fragin and Shwartzer, two student leaders at State High who aren’t strangers to working together. Over quarantine, both girls had been feeling the same way: lost and isolated from friends during the pandemic. The two had been inspired to brainstorm a new way to connect with others, one that felt more personal and didn’t rely on social media. For Fragin, the idea stemmed heavily from her childhood roots.
“For the past eight years I have been going to sleepaway camp for the whole summer, and because you are unable to bring your phone or any other device to camp, I always wrote letters back and forth with my parents, friends, neighbors, and many others,” Fragin explained. “I always loved the feeling of receiving a letter and being able to learn about what was going on in someone else’s life.”
When presented with the idea of creating a club based on the idea of pen pals, Shwartzer was ready to help bring it to life.
“The concept of something like waiting to receive a letter just seemed perfect to break things up,” Shwartzer said. Having a pen pal would be a new and safe way to provide connection and meaningful relationships that are difficult to form in the wake of COVID-19.
It’s one thing to have an idea for a club, but actually going forward with creating the club is a completely different story. Last spring, Fragin and Shwartzer presented the idea to Principal Curtis Johnson, and he put the two in contact with the principal and counselor of Easterly Parkway Elementary. While it was too soon to the end of the school year to start the club, the pair found an advisor in Kelly Conron, a State High Health and Phys. Ed teacher, and maintained contact throughout the summer so that the club could be started as soon as possible in the new school year.
Though the idea was established and the initial preparation was completed, there was a final step: proving that there was a general interest for the club. A Google Meeting was held, and with a generous turnout on both the elementary and high school end, the club was formed.
“Our club isn’t really one that requires a lot of meetings but we did have an informational meeting at the beginning of the year over Google Meet, and we had a really good turnout for that. I had actually anticipated that gaining interest would be a lot harder than it was, especially on the elementary end, but I think with everything going on we had a lot of people who were really eager to support someone else and form a new relationship in whatever way they could,” Shwartzer described.
With a big group of supporters and members, buddies were assigned, letters were written, and the relationships started to be formed. For junior Casey Higgins, the relationship she formed with her buddy was a very meaningful one.
“I really look forward to getting my letters, and it’s a really exciting thing for me and many others. I’ve definitely had so much fun being in this club, and it helps me to feel uplifted through this new connection.”
In addition to positive and safe social interactions, members were also delighted to find out that each letter gave them community service hours.
“Pen 2 Paper’s philosophy is about supporting other people. Sami and I really wanted everyone to feel like they had someone to talk to and something to look forward to with everything going on right now. It’s really nice right now to feel purposeful and for me personally, I know that even just writing the initial letter to my pen pals this past week was something I really benefited from,” Shwartzer said.
It is without a doubt that the Pen 2 Paper club is picking up traction and will continue to flourish and grow even after the pandemic. The club not only brings back the simplicity of letter writing, but it also brings back the core ideals of community and creating supportive mentorships. With a bigger market, the club has the potential to expand to other elementary schools as well.
“Pen 2 Paper is truly a great way to connect the SCASD community as a whole during these scary times,” Fragin said.
For now, both Fragin and Shwartzer have found a sort of contentment in their idea and how they’ve been able to positively impact their peers.