Katie Mills, left, a Harborside Health Care staff member, enjoys an ice cream treat with pen pal Katlyn Johns of Hill View Elementary School at the meeting of the students and their pen pals.
In keeping with his role as polite host, Cody Butler called out "Anyone want seconds?"
A few of the guests welcomed the offer of another dish of ice cream, topped off with sprinkles, syrup, and friendly smiles.
An ice cream social, youngsters agreed, was a most delicious way to wrap up Hill View Elementary School's popular pen pal program.
About 100 students in the Sylvania school corresponded this school year with pen pals. Last week, ice cream sundaes helped break the ice as pen pals met face-to-face for the first time.
Students eagerly join the pen pal club at the beginning of the school year, and they give up their recess time once a month to attend luncheon meetings where letters are written.
Linda Brenner, school counselor, coordinates the program. It began six years ago. At that time, she was counseling two children who "needed someone to bond with, someone to make connections with," recalled Mrs. Brenner. She linked the two children with pen pals.
Soon, other students were asking if they could be pen pals with someone special, too.
"Kids were stopping me in the hallway and asking 'Can I have a pen pal? Can I have a pen pal?' I couldn't turn any of them away," she said.
Three years ago, she posted sign-up sheets, and 40 students signed up almost immediately (parents must sign permission slips for students to join). "I thought that was a lot," Mrs. Brenner said.
The program has expanded each year since, challenging the school counselor to come up with enough pen pals so that everyone who wants to can participate.
The pen pal club is operated in conjunction with the Sylvania Senior Center and the assisted living and retirement communities in the area. Some students are pen pals with military personnel serving on a Navy ship.
This year, English classes at Northview High School students joined the club. Freshmen and sophomores wrote back and forth with the elementary students.
Goals of the program include developing writing and communication skills; building self-esteem through awareness of personal skills and sharing those skills with others; promoting awareness of community service; creating bonds between generations, and sharing a common interest in and developing social skills with children of the same age.
Luncheon meetings are held in Hill View's basement where the parents' organization has created the Harmony's Nest, a place where student council, clubs, and other student organizations can get together.
Letters are "mailed" in cardboard boxes. Mrs. Brenner reads through the letters before delivering them; return mail is reviewed for content for safety reasons.
Pen pals are on a first-name basis, although that can be amended to include initial of the pen pal's last name. J
im P., for example, was one of the pen pals last week who gladly accepted another dish of ice cream.
Cody, the third-grader who offered seconds, asked Jim P. - P for Paxton - what he wanted on top of the cold treat.
"I'll have everything," he said, joking with the students that he's not watching his weight.
And then he asked, "Is that fattening?" when Cody handed him a sundae loaded with toppings.
Mr. Paxton and other residents of Harborside Healthcare of Sylvania, just a couple blocks from Hill View, have been pen pals with the students.
The staff members at Harborside are pen pals too.
Mr. Paxton said his pen pal Feross Ballut, 9, matched up with how he pictured the student - "nice, neat, and quiet."
"You don't yell or scream, do you?" he teased as he talked with Feross who replied, "Only at recess."
Mr. Paxton described the pen pal club as "clever. I think it's a good idea."
Ice cream was donated by Cindy and Ben Rowe who operate the Dairy Queen at Alexis and Tremainsville roads, said Mrs. Brenner. Their son Ben, Jr., is a first-grade student at Hill View.
Katie Montgomery, 9, and Ann Desser, a resident of Harborside, were pleased to meet each other.
"I've been writing to her since the beginning of the school year," said Katie.
Ms. Desser has shared information with Katie about what fun things she likes to do, such as watch television, read books, paint, and play bingo.
Harborside residents gave their pen pals handmade collages, and the Hill View pen pals gave the residents photographs.
"She gave me her picture, which is very nice," said Ms. Desser.
Katlyn Johns, 9, visited with her pen pal Katie Mills, activities assistant at Harborside.
"I think it's nice to see the pen pals and not just write cards to them. It's nice to get to talk to each other," said Katlyn.
Katlyn said she and Ms. Mills discovered that both like Mexican food and their favorite snack is exactly the same: bananas and peanut butter.
Cody, who is pen pals with Sandy S., said the pen pal program is so successful because it "is good inspiration for letter writing."
And, Cody added: "It's a very good way to make friends."