What makes a good neighbor? Is it being kind? Friendly? Warm?

Seniors at The Watermark at Bellingham and students at East Goshen Elementary School have found these qualities in each other, forming friendships that span generations and lift each other up.

The school and the retirement community — which are located next door to each other in West Chester — have both benefited from a pen pal program that pairs the students and seniors.

In April, students walked over to Bellingham to meet their pen pals, trading letters, enjoying snacks, and sharing stories with each other throughout the afternoon in the community lounge. 

Bellingham resident Rick Morey has been writing back and forth with two fifth-grade students as part of the pen pal program. Their most recent exchange was about his best field trip ever and April’s partial solar eclipse.

“We exchange letters every few weeks, but the highlight so far was getting to share our letters in person. The kids were so inquisitive and excited!” Morey said.

The relationship between the school and retirement community dates back more than a decade and was recently rekindled.

“With the pandemic and changes with staff, we never knew if we’d be able to keep the program going,” said Tracy McCloskey, art teacher for the K-5 school. “But I knew that I wanted to help create a partnership like this ever since I came to East Goshen.”

“It was like Tracy read my mind; she reached out only a short while after I started at the community,” said Lisa Eller, community life director at Bellingham. “The kids bring so much joy to the residents, and they’re so close, the classes can walk over for a visit!”

The residents are always happy to take a quick trip over to the school as well, like Anastasia Plisko, who visits the third-grade students for the reading program.

While you might expect the seniors to read to the students, it’s actually the other way around.

“The students are so full of excitement and joy,” Plisko said. “We were all smiling on the way back home.”

Plisko was surprised to see one of the students at her local church; they now read together during the week and catch up on Sundays.

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