Their letters brought a smile to her lips, but their hugs brought her tears.
Elizabeth Hendry, 91, let the tears flow Thursday as she met for the first time the three Webber School pen pals whose letters have brightened her days at the Beverly Manor nursing home.
“Aren’t they beautiful,” said Hendry, seated on a wheelchair, a shawl draped over her shoulders, as she hugged each of the girls during a morning barbecue at the patio of the nursing home on Hospital Circle.
Hendry and about a dozen other nursing home residents met 80 sixth-grade students from Webber School who are participating in a program to develop the students’ writing skills while bringing cheer to nursing home residents.
Under the “Adopt a Grandparent” program, a student sends a letter at least once a week to a Beverly Manor pen pal.
But not all of the nursing home’s 92 residents, mostly in their late 70s or 80s, participate.
More than 200 fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders from Webber School are participating in the program, said Richard Guinn, principal of Webber School.
“We wanted to give the kids a reason to write,” Guinn said. “This is one of the best reasons--writing to people. The best thing is the students get to know how much joy they can bring to people they write to.”
As part of the pen pal program, the school held essay writing contests with Beverly Manor providing cash prizes to the three best essays from each grade. The essays were titled, “What My Grandparents Mean to Me.”
Two of the winners were Hendry’s pen pals--Lihn Le and Luz Heredia, both 12-year-old sixth-graders.
“It’s really fun to have grandparents,” Le said. “You learn a lot from them.”
She said her own grandparents, who are Vietnamese immigrants, have taught her good manners, respect for elders and hard work. She began writing Hendry in December, she said.
“Writing her has helped me express my feelings,” she said. “It makes you feel good that you’re helping someone.”
Heredia said she started writing to Hendry when she was in the fifth grade.
“She has showed me pictures of her and her family,” Heredia said. “She told me of places she has gone to. It’s like having your own grandmother.”
Another Hendry pen pal, 11-year-old, Elizabeth Strokhecker, said “I kind of feel sorry for her. No one visits her. She is so lonely.”
Hendry, who came from Scotland more than 60 years ago, has no relatives in the United States. Her husband, Walter, died more than 10 years ago and an only child, a daughter, died as an infant.
In her younger days, Hendry sang in churches, and her husband was a professional Scottish dancer.
Now she has an eye disease and uses a wheelchair, but Mary Campbell, Beverly Manor’s activities director, said that Hendry still performs during social events at the nursing home.
Sylvia Hill, 77, said a boy has been sending her letters for the past two years.
“When I get a letter from him, it always makes my day,” said Hill, who has two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren of her own.
But one student came away from the Thursday visit feeling sad. Carlos Mathus, 11, learned that the elderly man he has been writing to since last year died two months ago.
He did find another grandparent to adopt, Mable Smith, 95, whom he found sweet and friendly.
“It will be fun to write to her,” Mathus said.