Social isolation has been a struggle for many people throughout the pandemic. To address this issue, social work assistant professor Dr. Jennifer Frank helped to create a program that tries to bring people closer together and improve community wellbeing and engagement. Her project, Stepping Stones Pen Pal project, was recently granted funding by PASSHE. It pairs students with members of the community to write letters to each other. It also allows students and faculty to research the impacts of social isolation.
“Stepping Stones really came about through other research that we had been doing exploring the nature of human connections in regard to poverty,” says Frank.
Participants of the project will consist mostly of social work and sociology students from MU. They will correspond with members of our local community organizations like The Factory Ministries, YWCA of Lancaster and TLC/Tenfold (formerly Tabor). Writing to members of these organizations will allow researchers to study the effect poverty can have on social isolation. Additionally, faculty will learn how communities who share some experiences (e.g., barriers to resources), but differ in other ways (e.g., age, life experience, community context or demography) deal with feelings of social isolation.
“We are partnering with three different agencies, two urban and one rural. So far it is going really well, and we have cultivated pen pal sets and they’ve exchanged letters.”
The letters will be analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively to determine the ways in which people connect. After 12 months of letter writing, all participants will take a survey that will measure if their feelings of social isolation have changed. Frank expects that there will be decreased loneliness amongst participants when the project comes to a close. The students involved will gain valuable knowledge on research skills, poverty and social work organizations.