Campus: Sonoma State University -- November 14, 2003
Middle School Pen Pals To Seniors Bridges One Generation Gap
Dismayed by the lack of connections between Sonoma County youth and
senior citizens, Nedda Bakhshi has taken the old idea of pen pals to
Bakhshi, a senior in Sonoma State University's gerontology program,
created a program this fall semester called "Side-By-Side"
as a new way for students and seniors to connect and share life experiences
through letter writing and quarterly parties.
The Side-By-Side program is designed to bring generations together in
a world where many seniors and young people do not interact on a regular
In order to forge stronger ties between the two groups, Bakhshi arranged
the twenty-seven students of Diane Nelson's seventh-grade class at Petaluma
Middle School into "families" of five to six students.
These "families" exchange letters with seniors from the Petaluma
Senior Center once a month. After three months of exchanging letters,
there will be a party where the seventh-grade "families" and
their senior pen pal will finally be able to meet.
The seniors take part in teaching the students about the ways they lived
years ago. One woman writes about growing up as one of twelve siblings
on an Illinois farm. "We had no electricity or running water so
we used gas lights. We used a large well and it was the best water in
the country. My dad baked bread every two days. We brought all of our
vegetables out of the garden."
Her letter not only teaches the Petaluma seventh graders about farm
life many years ago, but also emphasizes connections to land and family.
Though she has only one hand and suffers from emphysema, she sent them
a two-page typewritten letter about her life.
The students shared stories of their families, grades, favorite sports
and career aspirations. "For soccer I travel to Hawaii and Sacramento
and a lot of other places. My dream is to play for Santa Clara University,"
writes Sarah, a member of the "family" corresponding with
her senior friend.
The Persian-born student was part of a similar program several years
ago writing to terminally ill adults.
"We live in such a youth-oriented society that we unconsciously
tend to segregate an enormous part of our history - our elders, "
"Through faults of our own society I believe we lose so much if
we leave our elders aside. They have lived an entire life and can teach
us lessons that may take us our entire lifetimes to learn."
In addition, she adds, "spending time with elders can teach our
younger generations patience, common etiquette and most importantly
Jean Wasp, Media Relations, (707) 664-2057