Earlier this year our Chamber President/CEO was catching up on things with a long-time colleague from Virginia. During this conversation she learned that Chris Mead started a new pen pal program that he has been working on with the Odessa, Texas Chamber of Commerce. This extraordinary venture connects students from Odessa, Texas, with their counterparts in Odessa, Ukraine, enabling the Ukrainian students to learn English while fostering cross-cultural communication. Chris told Yvonne that he had a burning need for students ages 11 and 12 to match up with students of the same age in the Ukraine. There is also a need for American students in middle school and high school. The idea of the Ukraine-USA Pen Pal Program is deceptively simple: to link up Ukrainian students and American students of similar age and interests via email.
Yvonne Martin, deeply connected to the region due to her family's heritage, was moved by Chris's efforts and invited him to join an Education Committee meeting. Through this, and with the help of our Education Committee Chair, Laura Hickes, Chris connected with educators Linda Miller from Huntingdon Area School District and Kathryn Lantz from Southern Huntingdon County School District. It is with immense pride that we announce the enrollment of the first six students from Pennsylvania into this impactful program. Our local students are not only contributing to the education of their Ukrainian peers but also showcasing the kindness that bridges continents.
The program has grown rapidly since its inception in late October 2022. It now has more than 800 participants, roughly 45 percent American and 55 percent Ukrainian. The higher number of Ukrainians results from recently putting two Ukrainian students with each American. Even with the two-to-one ratio for new "recruits" for this cost-free program, there still is a waiting list of 100 additional Ukrainians. More U.S. participation is necessary to help with the extraordinary demand from the roughly 25 English teachers in Ukraine who supply the students. Ages of students range from 10 to 17, with the heaviest participation among students aged 13 to 16.
Prior to our two school districts in Huntingdon County joining the program, six school districts across the United States had embraced the program. Those six are: Odessa Collegiate Academy, Odessa, Texas; Valor College Prep, Nashville, Tennessee; Garfield Elementary School, Lorain, Ohio; Maret School, Washington, D.C.; Oakton High School, Oakton, Virginia; and Flint Hill Middle School, Oakton, Virginia. There are currently 800 participants in the program.
Some great friendships have emerged from this pen pal program, and the learning goes in both directions. This program teaches children first-hand about things they cannot even learn from newspapers or on the web. They will find out what tyranny can do to a peaceful people and how those people bravely fight for their freedom. In return, the Ukrainian students learn not only more English, but also that they can find supporters and friends far away, that their futures are not limited to the long shadow of Russia. Young Ukrainians find that there is, after all, love and kindness in this world.