Sunday Seniors: Dartmouth students start senior citizen pen pal program

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/9/2020 8:59:21 PM
Modified: 5/11/2020 6:58:01 PM

HANOVER — A new program will connect Dartmouth College students with senior citizens throughout the Twin States during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pine Pals will pair students with seniors to be pen pals as stay-at-home orders and social distancing continue.

“They must be feeling pretty lonely, not having that social interaction. Even before the pandemic, that loneliness epidemic was going on in general,” said Amanda Chen, a Dartmouth junior who is studying psychology and biology. “This pandemic is exacerbating it.”

It was those thoughts that lead Chen to reach out to Dr. Robert Santulli, a Dartmouth professor well-known throughout the Upper Valley for his work with senior citizens.

“Everybody of goodwill wants to figure out, ‘What I can I do to help in this mess?’ ” Santulli said. “This is really student-initiated and I’m just really helping them through it.”

Seniors can sign up by emailing They will then be paired with a Dartmouth student.

So far, 17 students have signed up and completed orientation. There are currently three pairs of Pine Pals who have just gotten started.

“Something about handwriting letters is a nice touch, rather than receiving an email in an Arial or Times New Roman font,” said Chen, who is remotely learning from home in California. “We mentioned that your handwriting has to be legible. Maybe try to write bigger and with more spacing. It’s OK to be open about how the pandemic is affecting you because everyone is really impacted in different ways.”

Students are asked to write back within five days of receiving a letter. When they send their responses, they will also include a self-addressed stamped envelope.

“It’s just such a hard time for everyone. We’re trying to lower the barrier to social connection as much as possible, trying to give everyone as many things to look forward to as possible,” Chen said.

There are other organizations throughout the community that are working to assist senior citizens during the pandemic and keep them engaged with the community. Pine Pals is another avenue for those connections.

“We hope that it will be something people would look forward to, that they’d feel some sort of connection,” Santulli said. “Maybe when the students are back in the Upper Valley … maybe they’ll be able to make personal visits to their Pine Pal.”

Senior citizens are not the only ones feeling lonely. Students who were unable to return to campus are also missing those interactions.

“The students have been really great. They just really want to do something for the Upper Valley community,” Chen said. “We miss that community.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.


Dartmouth College junior Am   anda Chen helped start Pine Pals, a pen pal writing program that connects senior citizens in the Twin States to Dartmouth College students. Her last name was misspelled in an earlier version of this column.

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