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State Honoree

Photo of State Honoree Samuel Sherling

Samuel Sherling

Alabama

Samuel Sherling, 12, of Greenville, Ala., a sixth-grader at Fort Dale Academy, initiated a pen pal program in which his fifth-grade classmates wrote letters once a month to 40 local senior citizens to let them know the students cared about them and wanted to get to know them. In the summer of 2013, Samuel's mother encouraged him to look for a community service activity, which sparked a memory from second grade when his class wrote letters to people in assisted living facilities. "Lots of people in assisted living homes don't have any visitors," Samuel explained. "I knew I could make someone happy just by sending them a note and letting them know I was thinking of them."

With the support of his teacher, Samuel designed a logo for a poster announcing his project at his school. To find senior citizens interested in participating, he presented his idea to a senior Sunday school class at his church, and asked the directors of an assisted living facility and a local hospice to recommend candidates. After Samuel paired each student with a senior, the letter writing began. "It was kind of hard to write to someone we didn't know, but as time went on, it got much easier," he said. "The first time we all received a letter was awesome!" Some of the seniors sent pictures and books, and some came to Samuel's school to meet their pen pals. At the end of the school year, Samuel organized an ice cream party so everyone could meet. "The biggest accomplishment was the friendships we made," he said. "We learned how different our lives are from when they grew up."