an exclusive feature by Victoria Waller, Ed.D*
Many years ago when I was a teenager, I travelled by car with my parents from Detroit to the Catskills for a vacation. I made friends with a girl from Baltimore and we became pen pals, for years never seeing each other again until….I married a man from Baltimore and I reunited with my long lost pen pal. Those were the days when we wrote letters to each other and sent them through the mail.
Fast forward to three weeks ago… I read an article in Newsala, an online news site with fabulous newsworthy articles for children. The article was entitled, “Want to Be a Pen Pal with a Goat? You Can Mail a Letter,” which fascinated me. I realized that not one student I was teaching had any idea what a pen pal was.
Amanda Clark started a farm animal rescue called “Here with Us Farm Sanctuary” in Pennsylvania, where she rescues farm animals with special needs. She welcomes donations to help her take care of the animals, and even gets veterinarians to do any surgeries the animals need.
During this pandemic, Amanda realized the animals were missing visitors and seeing friends so she started an animal pen pal program. Go to the website https://www.herewithusfarmsanctuary.org with your grandchild, and you will see there are 98 farm animals. Your child can see each animal’s story before he/she chooses a pen pal. The children I did this project with were extremely particular about the animal they wanted to communicate with. For example, Bean is a goat who was rejected by his mom and didn’t get enough nourishment so had “tummy” problems; now he is healthy and “happy.”
Patrick had hoof rot and walked on his knees until Amanda rescued him; and yes, she got his legs fixed. Sprinkles, Cricket, Arthur, and Cashew went from home to home, never getting proper care or nutrition, until they were rescued. Carson is a goat with 4 different leg lengths and now has his own wheel chair.
The questions the children asked in their letters to their animal were amazing:
How do you read? Will you use a pencil to write me back? To Patrick, the goat, one child asked, “Are you named after Patrick Mahomes, the football player on the Chiefs? What do you do for fun? Who are your friends?” (If you are doing the correspondence with non-readers or writers or young children, have the child pick the animal and then dictate the letter to you.)
The letters from the animals came back in just a few weeks. The children received a glossy picture of their animal with the answers to their questions written on the back:
“Patrick was not named after Patrick Mahomes, but he did watch the Chiefs win the Super Bowl.” Serena asked if Sprout liked the color gold and he replied, “I like the color green because it is the color of grass.” These picture postcards included answers to every question each of the children had asked: how they were now, who they played with, what they ate, and where and who they slept with. Some of the children drew pictures and the animals even commented how much they liked their pictures.
This has been one of the best projects I have ever done with children. During this very difficult time it can make everyone in the family not only happy and excited to hear from an animal, but also help children become aware of how one woman can change the world for 98 special needs animals just by offering to have them become a pen pal.
If you do this project, please let me know how it goes (drvictoriawaller@gmail; Instagram Drvictoriawaller)
Feel free to send a donation:
Here with Us Sanctuary
3397 Tunnel Hill Road
Seven Valleys, Pa. 17360
*As an educator for over 40 years, Dr. Victoria Waller has taught thousands of students to read and write using their passions and strengths: sharks, roller coasters, rocket science, the Titanic and even Pokemon, to name a few. The children learn to read, but more importantly, “love” to read, which lasts a lifetime!