Pen pals help kids build skills, relationships

The pen pal team at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Madison builds relationships with students at Orchard Ridge Elementary School.

The pen pal team at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Madison builds relationships with students at Orchard Ridge Elementary School.

By Katie Mae Imhoff-Smith
Collaboration Project Story Team

In a world of digital communication and fast responses, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and Orchard Ridge Elementary are slowing it down in an ongoing pen pal partnership. 

Each year, third grade students at the southwest Madison school are paired with a community member from Good Shepherd, which is only about a block away. They participate in regular communication through the writing of letters once a month. As they connect through written words, a relationship is formed. 

One teacher recalls how a mentor remembered a student’s birthday and brought a card to one of the scheduled meetings when pen pals are able to meet. This unique relationship impacts the student, community members, school and teachers. Teachers share how students get to practice writing skills in real-life context and learn to communicate in new ways outside of their typical experiences. 

This is one of the Adopt-a-School partnerships of the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools. There are currently about 25 congregations that have various forms of school partnerships through this program. There are more partnerships throughout the county. The Collaboration Project put a spotlight on those links on Wednesday, Sept. 18, at Redeemer City Church.

Rev. Joe Brosious, one of the pastors at Good Shepherd, strongly encourages his congregation to get out and serve the community around them. His consistent presence in the community has contributed meaningful relationships with many organizations and people working within the community. He recognizes the strength of the partnership with Orchard Ridge across the street and continues to encourage those connections.

Good Shepherd knows that these school relationships are powerful, and since Orchard Ridge Elementary is connected to Akira Toki Middle School, the church has begun to support connections there as well. 

To help nurture these middle school relationships, Pastor Joe has connected with Intentional Mentoring, a non-profit seeking to support students in the gaps between school, community and home. Through Intentional Mentoring, community members are paired with a student between 4th and 8th grade and are able to walk alongside these students as mentors to support them in reaching their individual goals both in and out of school. 

Mentors communicate with both the school and the family in order to strengthen the support network for the student. Teachers at Orchard Ridge say that the partnership with Intentional Mentoring helps extend an opportunity to students and families from the pen pal program who want to continue investing in a mentoring relationship as they move into middle school.

Community members get to invest in a relationship that has an impact extending beyond a one-time volunteering opportunity. Through both the pen pal program and Intentional Mentoring, teachers explain that this is a positive way for community members to support schools through meaningful relationships.

This kind of collaboration between a church community and a school community opens ways for partners in all parts of the relationship to help create a better future for the area.
Katie Mae Imhoff-Smith is the founder and president of Intentional Mentoring and is an eighth grade teacher at Akira Toki Middle School.

For more information on this collaboration, contact
Rev. Joe Brosious at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, The co-chairs of the pen pal project at Good Shepherd areBeth Ringgenberg and Lois O’Rourke

Mary Bartzen at the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools Adopt-a-School program - The web site for the Foundation is

Katie Mae Imhoff-Smith at Intentional Mentoring:

Pastor Joe

Pastor Joe