YAK fosters friendships beyond pen pal letters


Photo used with permission from Sophia Yang

YAK members chat with third-graders from Dilworth Elementary School about the life of high schoolers.

Calvin Zhou, Staffer

As the school year winds down, excitement brewed in Youth Activities for Kids Club, culminating in the Penpal Meetup on May 25. After months of exchanging handwritten letters and gifts, YAK members finally got the chance to meet their third-grade pen pals from Dilworth Elementary School face-to-face.

On the day of the meetup, members discussed their memories of  elementary school and shared excitement to see their pen pals for the first time. With many members having gone to Dilworth when they were younger, they conversed about whether teachers they remembered were still teaching. Others talked about memories of participating in a similar pen pal system when they were in elementary and middle school. They were ready to fill the shoes of the high schoolers they looked up to at a young age. 

When they arrived, members and their pen pals shared laughs and stories while enjoying a meal together, with conversations ranging from what cars high schoolers owned to older siblings of the pen pals YAK members might know. The exchange of small gifts such as stickers, candies and keychains added a special touch to the event and symbolized the bond they had formed. Members enjoyed answering questions about middle and high school, which, for many third graders, seemed years away. The event not only served as a culmination of exchanging letters with their pen pals but also brought back nostalgic memories for the Lynbrook participants from their elementary school days.

“I had a middle school pen pal when I was in third grade and we met again in high school,” junior Nachiket Joshi said. “The feelings I got from that experience really enriched my life, so I wanted to be on the giving end of it this time.”

Over the years, the pen pal meetup has become an annual highlight for the club, consistently drawing the highest level of excitement and participation from members. The event was initially inspired by the club’s desire to create meaningful connections between elementary and high school students and promote empathy across the two diverse age groups.

“I think it’s really cute and nostalgic that we get to chat with these third graders, who remind me of my childhood and my brother who’s in fourth grade right now,” senior and vice president Owen Yuan said. “It really makes my day and also makes me sometimes wonder if one of them is a younger brother as well.”

The event was coordinated with third-grade teacher Judy Pereyda, who had worked with YAK to host pen pals for seven years at John Muir Elementary School, where she taught for many years before moving to Dilworth.

“Talking to Mrs. Pereyda about how much her students loved pen pal letters really touched me,” junior and secretary Sophia Yang said. “We don’t get to see them at all until the meetup so I loved seeing the happiness on their faces from a simple conversation.”

However, organizing the event presented its fair share of challenges. Coordinating schedules and ensuring effective communication between the two schools was a challenge for officers because of the differences in school schedules. However, the dedication and commitment of officers, members and staff ultimately ensured the event’s success, overcoming obstacles that arose along the way.

“Mrs. Pereyda was super easy to work with and she really helped with the letter exchange process,” Yang said. “The major obstacle came around the AP testing weeks when we had to push the event back to best fit our members’ schedules.”

For many members, their favorite part of the event was how it fostered a sense of fulfillment that cannot be replicated. As many members were a part of the same program when they were younger, knowing that they were providing the same experience was especially rewarding.

“We try to volunteer at every possible school around our local area because we just want children and parents to always have an easy and fun time,” Yuan said. “Especially after a year and a half of COVID-19, which is like losing almost a quarter of your childhood, it’s tough for them to adapt back to in-person learning.”

Beyond the handwritten letters and tangible gifts, the event exemplifies the magic of bridging gaps and forming lasting friendships. The club’s meetup continues to inspire future initiatives, igniting the vision of an even more vibrant club with engaging activities in coming years.