Kids write to sheriff’s dept. in pen pal program

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Coronavirus has isolated 8-year-old Oliver and 5-year-old Max from friends.

And on a recent cold and rainy Thursday, the weather has isolated them from the outside.

Their mom, Stacey Sage, says it has been a little crazy since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools and social distancing became the norm.

“I’m working from home. And trying to balance that and trying to teach them things too and let them not be lazy bums all day has been difficult. We’re just doing our best,” Sage said.

But in an age of FaceTime, Instagram and Snapchat — Oliver and Max are using the handwritten word to make new friends.

They’ve adopted pens pals.

“I will be nine in September. My favorite animal is a Cheetah. My favorite game is Fortnite,” Oliver writes in his first letter to the friend he had never met. “Thank you for keeping us safe. From Oliver.”

You see, the letters aren’t just to any pan pals.

These pals wear a badge.

The Kent County Sheriff’s Department has launched its very own pen pal program.

“Of course, two little boys who love superheroes, I thought it would be pretty cool. They would think it would be pretty cool to write them a letter and hope to get a letter back,” said Stacey Sage. “It may be just a fun little letter back and forth. But I feel like these kinds of things have the potential to shape and change little kids’ lives.”

Almost 30 “pals” have sent in letters.

Dozens of sheriff employees have signed up for the program, from road patrol deputies to corrections officers to 911 dispatchers.

Kent County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Joy Matthews runs the program.

“I remember having a pen pal when I was in elementary school,” Matthews said. “For months writing my pen pal and just the excitement I had when I would receive a letter back, and then came the moment when I met the pen pal, and how exciting that was.”

The pandemic has pretty much eliminated the ability for officers to connect with the public in non-enforcement situations, robbing them of an opportunity to show the human behind the badge.

When it comes to showing that side to kids, school resource officers that would normally be roaming the hallways are now roaming the streets as road patrol officers.

“We miss everyone, to be honest with you. This is difficult for us,” Matthews said.

Giving kids a chance to work on their writing and reading skills while they’re out of school is a practical purpose to the program, but the larger purpose is personal.

“Just to kind of show them that hey, we are human too, and this is tough for us as well,“ Matthews said.

She says the department would like to continue the program after the pandemic.

To be a pen pal, send a letter to:

Kent County Sheriff’s Office
Records Unit
Attn: Sheriff Pen Pal Program
701 Ball Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503