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WNY Girl Scouts became pen pals with long-term care residents during pandemic

The pen pal program started in mid-October to help lift the spirits of residents who, due to state COVID-19 guidelines, could not have visitors.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Leah Mihaly of Penfield and Claire Farnham of East Aurora are both in fifth grade, and they're both Girl Scouts.

"I like making people smile and making a difference," Mihaly said.

And that's exactly what the two did in 2020.

They took part in a Pen Pal program that connected girls in fifth grade with long-term care residents at Kaleida Health’s HighPointe on Michigan and DeGraff Skilled Nursing facilities.

Since October, Mihaly has been writing letters back and forth with resident Thelma Haskins.

Farnham has been writing back and forth with resident Robert Neely.

Farnham told 2 On Your Side, "It is really fun and I know that Mr. Rob likes it a lot, and I have doing it because I feel like I'm moving closer to him. And I feel more happy, and I think he does too, and that's what makes me really glad about this program." 

Mihaly said, "We talk a lot about family and when we were younger. She likes to play basketball, and I like to play basketball too. It's really cool and fun." 

After months of writing, they all came together for a Zoom call: seeing each other for the first time, even just through a screen. 

Both Haskins and Neely thanked the girls for their letters.

Haskins said, "It made me very, very happy to know that somebody really cared about me." 

Throughout the pandemic, residents at facilities across New York State weren't allowed visitors, so the connection through writing and receiving letters left a significant impact.

"The letters made me feel wonderful," Neely added.

What started as a good deed by local Girl Scouts turned into something even more special: friendship, in a year when it was needed most.