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IHS Students Lead Letter Program to Spread Positivity

Elisabeth and Tyler started Letters of Sage to collect handwritten letters for seniors, teachers, hospital workers and others

The handwritten letter has become something of a lost art in today’s age of email, texting and social media. But two Issaquah High School students are leading a charge to revive the importance of paper messages – and the positivity and human touch they can offer. 
Elisabeth Endres and Tyler Innes, two juniors from IHS, wanted to come up with a way for teens to serve our community safely during the pandemic and also find a way to lift the spirits of others. They happened to hear about a letter-writing program elsewhere, and decided to launch their own version here called Letters of Sage in March of 2021. In the past year, their group has created letters for residents of retirement centers, hospital staff, teachers and others. 

“Writing letters is not a very modern thing anymore,” Endres said. The effort and thought particularly appeals to the seniors in our community. “They said they love getting letters, because it reminds them of what they used to do.” One senior said: “It feels so nice to be able to open a letter once again. It has been years since I have even written a letter to someone.” 

To make it easier on their volunteers, they use a number of organizational strategies. First, they offer templates for those who aren’t sure what to write about (or draw). Second, they plan themes and specific collection dates. For example, they used a “winter” theme for a collection during the holidays, and included some holiday and some general cards and letters. Handwriting, calligraphy and unique art are encouraged, but not required to participate. 

At first, they started by spreading the word among their friend groups. Then the pair, who have been friends since seventh grade, launched a website and an Instagram account to share the news of the new organization. Teen volunteers from IHS, other schools in the district and even a few who live elsewhere write letters, create art and share a bit about themselves in their messages. They track their volunteer hours, then drop off their letters at a collection organized by Innes and Endres, who distribute the letters as planned. More than 100 students have volunteered so far, for an estimated total of 569 volunteer service hours, and have created 956 letters. 

Asked about the result the letters have had and what they hear back from the recipients, Endres said: “Lots of positivity.” When they delivered messages to teachers, for example, it was very impactful. “A lot of them said they had felt overlooked, and they had almost forgotten why they are teachers,” she said. The letters helped remind them how much they mean to their students, she added. 

After delivering a bundle of letters to one local retirement home, a staff member told the two “Our residents have faced very difficult times over this last year, and to have that little bit of light to share with them has been a blessing. The love and warmth that is felt when passing the notes and cards from Letters of Sage touches my heart.” 

The letters are primarily anonymous. While students do share details about their lives and might share their first name and/or school, it’s not intended as a pen pal program, and the writers don’t know who receives their personal messages. 

Innes and Endres said they hope that the program will continue to build steam and that they can bring in some new student leaders before they graduate. “I hope it will keep on going and growing and that we can pass it on to someone,” Innes said. 

Endres encouraged any student who is interested to consider penning a few letters. “We are appreciative of all of our volunteers,” she said. “This couldn’t be possible without them.” 

The upcoming theme is thank you letters for front desk staff members and custodians who worked at hospitals during the pandemic, and the collection will be on April 2, 2022 at the Issaquah Community Center. To learn more about how to volunteer, or to see more examples of the letters students have created in the past year, visit the Letters of Sage website or Instagram account