Share stories, friendship through ‘Penn Pals’

Penn Pals

Email, social media, and text messaging have enabled individuals to converse with friends and family members in mere seconds or minutes, but nothing says “I’m thinking of you” like an old-fashioned handwritten letter.

“In the days of electronic everything, letter-writing is a lost art,” says Providenza Loera Rocco, a 2009 graduate of the School of Social Policy & Practice and coordinator of the school’s Community Teamworks program. “A handwritten letter adds a personal, unique touch.”

Rocco, who also received her Master of Bioethics from the Perelman School of Medicine, has devised “Penn Pals,” a partnership in which people in the Penn community exchange letters with members of Penn’s Village, an independent age-in-place program that serves older residents of Center City. Penn’s Village is not affiliated with the University.

Penn students, faculty, staff, and alumni who sign up for “Penn Pals” will be paired with an older adult. Volunteers will handwrite a letter approximately once a month and mail it to his or her writing companion. Through these letters, both participants will share experiences, stories, photographs, and friendship.

“It’s a very simple, yet meaningful way to touch the life of an older adult in Philadelphia,” says Rocco. “Letter writing is a natural fit to support older adults and help decrease feelings of isolation.”

If a volunteer’s handwriting is illegible, or if he or she has trouble writing letters by hand, typewritten letters are acceptable. Rocco says that once a connection is made, the “Penn Pals” can determine how they would like to contact each other. 

Rocco says Community Teamworks hopes to develop a long-lasting collaborative effort with Penn’s Village, and the two organizations are developing a guest lecture program in which volunteers can speak about various topics, from memoir writing to social media.

She encourages members of the Penn community to volunteer however they can.

“It could be one day a year, one letter a month, and still, it could have a profound impact,” Rocco says.

For more information about volunteering, guest lecturing, or joining “Penn Pals,” contact Providenza Loera Rocco at 215-573-6866 or email

Originally published on February 28, 2013