Cooper and Joyce discovered that they attend the same church, and in letters they had already found out both play basketball and have uniforms with No. 1 on them.
Andraia found out her grandmother knows Sandra. And Stone and Trula simply became better friends.
On Tuesday morning, Domtar’s PaperPal program, which links 10 of Kingsport’s Adams Elementary third-graders with 10 Kingsport Senior Center members, brought the pen pals together in person for the first time since they began writing letters to each other in September. The group of 20 met at the Renaissance Center so students could give the seniors scarves they made. They also had some snacks and an impromptu game of helium balloon volleyball involving two mixed teams of seniors and students.
“I thought everybody was going to be quiet, but they are interacting and talking,” Senior Center Program leader Amber Quillen said shortly before the volleyball began.
Senior Susan Valentine and her dog Bandit met with student Jack Werick. Bandit became the group’s informal mascot.
Senior Joyce Manis met with student Cooper Cuthaw. “Typing is easier,” Cooper said. “This is more personal.”
Manis, who planned to go see Cooper play basketball Tuesday night, said, “You can tell a lot about a person by the way they write.”
“We both attend Christ Fellowship,” Manis said. “The letters were how we found out we both liked basketball.”
But they learned Tuesday they both like to draw. And Manis said she picked Cooper out of the crowd before being introduced, even though she had never seen a photo of him and didn’t know his last name.
Senior Sandra Byington met with Andraia Gordon. “I found her letters very interesting,” Andraia said.
Byington said, “I have the most beautiful pen pal in the room.”
Byington said she plans to go to South Carolina and Gatlinburg later this year to see Andraia compete in dance. Andraia said writing was good because you can keep it and look at it later and it can’t be accidentally deleted like a text.
Student Stone Collier said he got into the letter-writing program to “have a new friend” and that it was “more old-fashioned” communications “instead of just texting everything.”
Senior Trula Cox said, “It’s more personal if it’s on paper than on a phone.”
Kim Phillips, a former instructional assistant at Adams who volunteers once a month for the Service Learning Club, said the 10 students also have collected enough birthday cake mix and other items for 43 birthday bags for a local food pantry and took dog toys to the animal shelter.
Adams Principal Christie Free said the club meets 90 minutes a month during school.
“They’re making connections. It’s really neat,” Free said. “The kids have been so excited.”
Domtar provided stationery, pencils, crayons, glue and stamps for the students and senior adults to create one-of-a-kind, handwritten letters. Another Domtar PaperPal program matched students at Miller Perry Elementary in Sullivan County with seniors at Wexford House and Asbury Place.