We all love the feeling of opening our mailboxes and seeing packages or letters, instead of junk mail or stress-filled medical bills. For many millennials, pen pals were people we met at summer camp or friends that moved who we wanted to stay in contact with by writing letters to each other.
In 2014, Girls With Guts started a Pen Pal Program because Alicia Aiello, President of GWG, benefited greatly from having a pen pal when she was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) at age 14. She wanted to give others a chance to make new friendships and connect with women who could relate to living with IBD.
Girls With Guts (GWG) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support and empower women with IBD and/or ostomies through the building of sisterhood and self-esteem. GWG offers many resources including annual retreats, a private Facebook forum, and programs that help connect women with IBD and ostomies.
The program matches applicants from all over the world based on age and diagnosis. Through this match, pen pals can then exchange addresses to start sending cards, letters, or gifts back and forth. So far, 1,057 women have participated in the program and it’s completely free to join.
"I'm just letting you know this pen pal thing was a crazy good idea. It feels really good to write to someone who understands! And she's becoming a very good friend." – Danielle V.
GWG also offers a sub-program called Pen Pal Angels, where women with IBD can receive a little extra encouragement. Pen Pal Coordinator, Jen Waters, wanted to give women more support if they were struggling with symptoms and treatment or having surgery. Recipients receive cards, letters, and other means of inspiration from the sisterhood without any expectation of replying so they can focus on their recovery.
Texts and emails eventually get deleted but pen pal letters are something worth holding onto. If you're looking for a way to correspond with women in the IBD and ostomy communities, consider signing them up for a penpal program.