Local Elders Swap Letters with Panamanian English Students

Peace Corps volunteer Meg Bolger (right) holds a packet of letters from the Cambridge Citywide Senior Center. Bolger recently organized a letter swap with Cambridge Council on Aging Director Susan Pacheco (left), to help her students in Panama learn English. SCES PHOTO

Older adults at the Cambridge Senior Center recently helped Panamanian children practice their English, though a letter exchange organized by a Peace Corps volunteer with local ties.

The swap was conceived by Meg Bolger, a former case manager at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES). Bolger is now in her second year in Panama with the Peace Corps, and said the idea came up while teaching Panamanian children a second language.

“They are learning basic English and are very motivated to practice, and I thought it would be really fun for them to do a letter exchange with a group of elders from Massachusetts,” she said.

Bolger reached out to SCES about the project, and was put in touch with Cambridge Council on Aging Director Susan Pacheco, who agreed to find people who would write back.

Bolger mailed the 15 student letters in late spring, and picked up the response letters during a visit to her home state in July. She also gave a presentation about Panama and the Peace Corps at the Cambridge Citywide Senior Center.

“It was a really fun experience and it was great because some of the people in the audience were from Panama, and they shared their perspectives as well,” said Bolger.

Pacheco said the Cambridge Council on Aging was excited to participate in the letter exchange, and to host Bolger’s presentation.

“Both senior participants and staff eagerly wrote to the students,” said Pacheco. “Many of the respondents chose to decorate their letters with sketches and stickers.”

“Meg’s presentation was well received by the audience,” added Pacheco. “It was a great learning experience for all.”

Bolger returned to Panama in early August, to complete the final eight months of her Peace Corps commitment.