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Pen-pal program flourishes

Meg Handelman | Thursday, March 7, 2013

Students craving handwritten correspondence in the age of digital communication can join the Literacy Awareness Club of Notre Dame (LAND) and exchange personal letters with middle-school children in South Bend.

Senior Emily Yates, president of LAND, said the program began in 2011 to reach out to children in the community.

“Our goal is to help improve the rate of literacy in South Bend and in the United States by spreading awareness about low literacy rates,” Yates said. “We focus on programs for children, since they impact future literacy rates.”

Yates said the pen-pal program currently pairs about 40 Notre Dame students with pen pals from the sixth grade class of Brown Intermediate Center.

“As this is one of our most popular programs, we hope to expand it to more children here in South Bend, and perhaps even neighboring communities,” Yates said.
Notre Dame students write pen-pal letters every other week, which gives the middle-school students a week to respond, Yates said.

“Many letters include pictures, drawings, stickers and even small gifts,” Yates said. “We have a location in LaFortune where LAND members drop off the letters, and our club delivers them to a contact with the school.”

Yates said the pen-pal program is just one of the four main volunteering activities LAND sponsors. Members also volunteer at the Robinson Community Learning Center, the Boys and Girls Club, the St. Joseph County Public Library and the Hesburgh Library.

“As president of LAND, I get in contact with local libraries and places that work with children and coordinate ways for people in LAND to volunteer,” Yates said. “Members of LAND sign up for whatever events they can attend as they become available.”

The largest volunteering opportunities are the Open Book Festival in the fall and One Book, One Michiana in the spring, Yates said. The Hesburgh Library and the St. Joseph’s County Library host these events together.

“I hope to get plenty of volunteers to sign up for our events with One Book, One Michiana that will be happening in April,” Yates said. “I also hope to begin to organize the election process for choosing a new cabinet for next year and to continue to expand the club to get even more people to sign up for events.”
Yates said the club hopes to offer more volunteering opportunities to better serve the community.

“We can try to make a difference in St. Joseph County by promoting literacy awareness and working with children to change the future of our local community,” she said.