As summer travel approaches, how can mentors find ways to stay connected to their youth?

This week I received a letter from an old friend.

This is not really an unusual occurrence: Alison and I have been trading letters since we first met at summer camp 25 years ago.

That summer, we were 14 years old – we weren’t able to drive the two hours’ distance between our homes, we had no income of our own and couldn’t often afford to pay 10 cents/minute to talk on the phone long distance, and email wasn’t a thing yet. So the primary vehicle for maintaining our friendship throughout the year was by putting pen to paper.

There were times during my freshman and sophomore years of high school when there was a letter waiting for me in the mailbox almost every day from Alison. We reported on our major crushes; we kvetched about friends or our parents; we sent each other poems and stories we had written. I still have all of those letters from her stored in my dad’s attic.

I never considered Alison less of a friend because I didn’t see her every day and eat lunch with her in the cafeteria.

In fact, I considered her one of my best friends, and still do, even though we have never lived in the same place.

When I was visiting her family in Atlanta a couple years ago, her stepdaughter Alice – then age 7 – asked me a question about what Alison was like in preschool. When I answered that I hadn’t actually known Alison quite that long, Alice replied: “But you are her pen pal. You must know EVERYTHING about her.”

It’s true that I know more about my lifelong pen pal than I do about many of the folks I see in my everyday life.

There is certainly a freedom in putting some of my deepest thoughts and fears on paper, sealing them in an envelope, and sending them across the country to someone I trust. We get straight to the important stuff, right away.

And when I do see Alison in person, it is much the same. Our conversations can start at a place of depth, even when we haven’t seen each other in months.

As we enter the summer, many of our mentors have plans to travel and take much-deserved times of leisure and refreshment.

In most cases, their teammates are able to hold down the fort and spend time with youth, and remind them that everyone is returning soon.

But don’t forget how powerful it can be to send reminders of care through the mail.

A simple postcard can be an important reminder to our youth that you don’t have to be physically present to be thinking of them. Later this summer, we will also encourage mentors with youth attending summer camp to send letters to them there.

Our mentors all are some of the best friends our youth have ever had. We are grateful for all the ways you remain present for them, wherever you are.

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