As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, many students feel more alone than ever.
“After the abrupt school closure, the loss of extracurricular activities and clubs was a big blow for students,” Tiffany Chen, one of the organizers of PENdemic, said. The program aims to connect students at universities across Canada through pen pal letters.
“Students often feel that their success in school is directly tied to their community connections,” Dixon Pinto, a McMaster Community Advisor and founder of PENdemic, said. His goal was to create a program that would allow students to share their experiences despite the physical barriers of social distancing.
What began as a small initiative on McMaster campus has now spread across 20 Canadian universities with over 400 participants.
Students who sign up for the program are asked to fill out an application form that includes their interests, program, age, and a personality test. The organizers then review each application to find their ideal match.
“We take great pride in hand-matching every student who applies,” Tiffany said, adding, “The process is time-consuming but worth it, as it increases the probability of a successful match.”
Students can also indicate their desired commitment level – once per week, every couple of days or every day – and their preference for handwritten or electronic communication.
But the PENdemic program won’t stop with students. Long-term care homes have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and the leadership team wants to help.
“We’re hoping to connect students and long-term care home residents for an intergenerational pen pal program in the future,” said Dixon said.
Chen, Dixon, and the rest of the PENdemic team have designed the program not only to match students with similar interests, but also to allow them to meet someone new. “We try to match students from different universities so they can meet people, they otherwise never would,” Dixon said.
The fifth round of matching will end on May 22. Interested students can check out the PENdemic website: (https://pendemic.weebly.com), or apply directly for the fifth round: (http://tinyurl.com/pendemicround5).
Students who enjoy the program can sign up for multiple matching rounds, throughout the summer, to make new friends.