Write_On brings letter-writing to college and elementary school students

We're super excited to introduce you to one of the Write_On's 2016 non-profit partners, BUILD (Berkeley United in Literacy Development). BUILD is one of the largest literacy programs in San Francisco's East Bay, with UC Berkeley mentor teams providing one-to-one literacy support to 21 after school locations in the Berkeley and Oakland public schools.  We’ve donated over 600 cards, generously provided by Write_On sponsor Chronicle Books. 250 college mentors will be writing and helping 600 elementary school students write their own letters this month.

On Friday, April 8, Sabrina Moyle of Hello!Lucky and Tess Darrow of Egg Press visited BUILD at UC Berkeley to introduce Write_On to over 50 college student mentors.

We were curious to see what the response to letter-writing would be from 18 - 21 year-olds, who’ve grown up with social media and have probably written very few letters so far in their lives. We were pleasantly surprised!

One BUILD mentor shared how she had written a letter to her future self when she was 13 and had opened it recently; it was really meaningful.  Letters are in fact a way we can connect the dots of different phases of our lives.  The choices we make and the experiences we have at each life stage influence and build the foundation for future phases, so visualizing and setting intentions for the future or coming full circle to the past through a letter-writing can be an illuminating, satisfying exercise.

Another BUILD mentor shared how one of her scholars (what BUILD calls student mentees) had written a thank you note to a children's book author.  The author is passionate about creating children's books that reflect diversity and had donated several of her books to the scholar’s school. They are hoping that the author will write back!

Sabrina reflected on how she had first met her college roommate through letters. She recalled receiving her first letter from someone named Laura Christian in Katonah, New York, and how much she learned about her future friend just through the form of her handwriting and the things she chose to express.  There was an unraveling sense of mystery as she and her future roommate exchanged letters, and their friendship continued to grow organically. Fast forward to the present and they are still best friends, about to attend their 20 year college reunion. Sabrina shared that she had just written a new letter to her, reflecting on how much her friendship had meant and expressing appreciation about all the aspects she admires in her former roommate.  Even though they see each other regularly and communicate by text and email, the letter gave her a way to pull up from the day-to-day and reflect on the bigger picture. What is it like to meet your college roommate for the first time, today, she wondered?  Is it a flood of Facebook and social media information?  Does it remove some of the mystery and intimacy of developing a unique one-on-one relationship over time?

We exchanged tips about letter-writing with children:

+ Ask open-ended "who, what, when, why, where" questions like:  Who matters most to you in your life?  Why are they your friend?  What do like most about them?  Can you remember a time they did something kind for you? How did it make you feel?

+ Encourage them to write on a piece of paper and then tape the finished draft into a card.  Children who are learning to write often need a few tries before they are happy with the result.

+ Let them know it's okay to mess-up and either scratch out your mistake in a "beautiful oops" (to quote best-selling children's book author Barney Saltzberg), or start again.

+ Keep a positive, open-minded, low-pressure attitude. Letter-writing is fun and gives you a chance to make yourself and the recipient feel good - it's not an obligation.

+ Write to an adult who is likely to write back.

+ Mentors could write a letter to their mentees about child and what they appreciate about him / her, and perhaps about their hopes and dreams for them -- to be either delivered now or in the future.

Big huge thanks to Carrie Donnovan and Rosa Ortega for coordinating our partnership with BUILD!  We’ll be sure to share any images and stories about the BUILD team’s Write_On adventures over the rest of the month!