Aquinas College pen-pals

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22 May 2020

In this National Volunteer Week, students from Aquinas College, Ringwood, have given a beautiful and timely reminder that we can always help others.

Throughout the second term and during remote learning, 60 Aquinas College students have volunteered to be pen-pals and write letters to the elderly in three different nursing homes – Arpad Aged Care, Villa Maria Catholic Homes and Heritage Care. Tania Grace, Assistant Principal, Mission, answered a few questions about the program.

How did the pen-pal program begin?

We started the program this term because all of our normal social justice programs couldn’t run while in isolation. We wanted to help those who were vulnerable and we were talking about who the most isolated people could be out there. We talked about the nursing homes and how they weren’t getting to see family. We thought it was really important for our students, while they were experiencing isolation, to think beyond their own home and into the community and who they might be able to help from a distance. Our Social Justice Coordinator came up with the idea of pen-pals, so we contacted some nursing homes to see if it was a viable program and they were really quite keen to have the students write. We started with a couple of our senior classes and then we sought volunteers across the board to help write letters to the elderly from three different nursing homes – 60 pen-pals.

How did you involve the students?

We actually asked them to apply so that we could see the reason they wanted to be involved. They wanted to be able to help someone else. They couldn’t see their own grandparents. Some of them were very much aware of how lonely it could be for grandparents, so they wanted to be able to help someone else’s grandparents out. A few of our students wrote about the idea of helping the vulnerable, about care and compassion for those around us.

How does the program express the charism and mission of Aquinas College?

Our charism stems from our patrons, Thomas Aquinas, Mary MacKillop, Edmund Rice and Dominic Guzman. Each of these people wanted to help those in need. We have a mission statement that involves six core values: belonging, stewardship, justice, compassion, perseverance and spirituality. Our students work towards understanding these values as part of their daily life. In this particular project we have the belonging, we have the compassion for those around us and that’s really what the students were focusing on.

How long has the program been going and will it continue?

We literally started it this term. We planned it at the end of last term and we started it the first week back. Once all the restrictions are lifted, we’re actually having our students visit their pen-pals. At the moment, the pen-pals are writing back to our students and then our students will be replying to them again.