The world needs more love letters—that’s the firm belief of a CA club—and these Upper School students are doing something to rectify the situation.
Late on a Tuesday afternoon, nearly two dozen students gather in a classroom, nibble on frosted cookies, and earnestly write “love” letters to people they have never met. Faculty Sponsor Suzie Jekel gives full credit to the students. “This is totally 100 percent student-run,” she says. “They started it and came to me with the idea.”
Senior Lauren Fossel initiated the club as a junior and then enlisted her friend Ann-Claire Lin to help organize it. Fossel was searching the Internet looking for “meaningful ways to make connections with more people,” when she stumbled on a website called “The World Needs More Love Letters.” Founded by Hannah Brencher in 2011, the letter-writing initiative started when a lonely and depressed Brencher began leaving kind-hearted letters around the city of New York with the address, “If you find this letter, it’s for you.” From a humble beginning, The World Needs More Love Letters has grown into a global community of more than 20,000 individuals across six continents, 53 countries, and all 50 states. “I read it, and my first thought was, ‘We have to bring this to CA!’” Fossel says. “CA definitely encourages us to try to make a difference and think about people besides yourself.”
CA definitely encourages us to try to make a difference and think about people besides yourself.
Lin, who chose to attend CA because she believed the school would offer the same opportunities for social and emotional growth she had experienced in elementary school, was immediately sold on the idea. “In a lot of ways today, technology creates superficial interactions with people,” Lin says. “This struck me as a unique opportunity to connect with people on a personal level, as opposed to just posting selfies and having other people see them.”
Brencher’s website accepts nominations of people from around the world who, for a variety of reasons, would appreciate receiving letters. The website publishes a first name and small biography of these individuals along with sample letters to help inspire letter-writers. The CA letter writers gather once a week and silence reigns in the room as they write. “We ask people, ‘If you were to receive a love letter, what would you want it to say?’” Fossel says.
For students, the experience can open their minds to the bigger world. “It forces you to step outside the high school experience,” Lin says. “Suddenly, you realize that taking a test isn’t so bad compared to someone who just lost her father.”
Recently, Fossel wrote to a 102-year-old woman named Cherie who couldn’t leave her house but loved to look out the window and wanted to hear stories to help expand her world. “I wrote about solo backpacking in Leadville,” Fossel says. “I described the beautiful night sky with the moon and no clouds, and I said I hoped she would keep smiling.”
Lin remembers writing to an immigrant mother from China who felt that she was not appreciated for the supportive upbringing she had provided her daughter. Since Lin was taking Chinese, she decided to write to the mother in Chinese with proofreading support from her Chinese teacher. “I said to her, ‘There’s really no greater gift that you can give someone than a fresh life filled with opportunity. That’s priceless, and I hope you know your daughter really appreciates it.’”
Lin believes that some letters require empathy and others sympathy. “Sometimes, you can put yourselves in someone else’s shoes and feel empathy, and sometimes you can only sympathize because you haven’t had that life experience, but sympathy is better than nothing,” she says. “You’re saying, ‘I may live thousands of miles away from you, but I read your story and I am here for you.’”
Fossel nods in agreement. “I just feel grateful I’m at a place like CA where you can start a club like this and help make the world a happier place—help make more love letters in the world.”