U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Juan Salas knows the joy of receiving correspondence. "A letter was like a piece of gold. Something you will keep for the rest of your life," he says.
Returning from duty in Iraq, he was determined to help soldiers overseas. With the aid of administrators at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., where Salas was a student, he created the pen pal program, My Soldier. He believes letters and care packages generated by the My Soldier program contribute to the morale and quality of life for service people. Since its inception, more than 300,000 people have joined.
Involvement is simple—My Soldier participants agree to "adopt" a deployed U.S. serviceperson. They register online at www.mysoldier.com to get started. Within days, a My Soldier staff member sends an e-mail with a soldier’s address and you can begin corresponding. A starter kit online includes suggestions for letter writing. Salas encourages writers to get to know their soldiers by inquiring about their interests and recommends keeping correspondence upbeat and lighthearted. Because mail reaches soldiers weekly or monthly, patience is required when waiting for a response. Sometimes e-mail is quicker and including a self addressed stamped envelope helps, too.
Alice Mansell of Hinsdale, who has been participating in the program for two years, says it is a wonderful part of her life. She invited several children from her local school where she is a senior reader to join her in writing letters, making posters and baking cookies. "Even little ones who barely write can use stickers and markers to draw a picture or make a card," she suggests. "Soldiers need to be encouraged and know we appreciate them."
The My Soldier program has grown to include correspondence programs for the classroom, Hats Off to Veterans program to recognize homebound or hospitalized veterans and Her Story, which focuses on servicewomen.
For more information, visit www.mysoldier.com.