Michael Andersen, 14, of Bozeman, Montana, an eighth-grader at Sacajawea Middle School, started the “Share Our Stories Holiday Campaign” last Christmas to spread holiday cheer and connect students with older generations through letter writing and stories of holidays past. It all started when Michael realized that, because of COVID-19, he would not get to see his grandparents at Christmastime. “I was sad about the time we would be missing and worried about them during the pandemic,” Michael said. “I really wanted to find a way to connect with them and have a real-life conversation like I was there in person.” Then he had an idea. First, he would recruit young people to write letters to a family member or someone else of another generation, asking them to share a holiday memory or story from when they were younger. Next, after the older person responds, both letters are posted on social media or a website.
To begin, Michael met with school officials and then made a presentation at a school-wide staff meeting. He made instructional packets for teachers and students, and built slideshows to explain his idea and instruct others on how to participate. He recruited volunteers to help him prepare the materials, worked in classrooms to help students write letters, reached out to organizations for sponsorships, designed a website, and spread the word through social media and interviews with reporters. Initially, Michael’s goal was to create 500 connections between young and old in his community. Instead, more than 1,000 letters were exchanged, “affecting people in a wonderful way throughout this saddening time,” said Michael.