Bismarck teenager lifts spirits through ‘Meaningful Mail’

A typical teenager’s life revolves around school and hanging out with friends. For 17-year-old Hattie Fitterer, this normally includes volleyball, student council and National Honor Society. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, her world suddenly stood
relatively still. That’s when she discovered a different passion — spreading joy to others.

In March, Hattie launched Meaningful Mail, a letter writing campaign focused on spreading joy to elderly adults, after her grandfather told her how the pandemic was affecting a friend who lived in a long-term care facility.

“He said his friend was very lonely and didn’t get much face-to-face contact. So, my dad and I started Meaningful Mail to create positivity and spread some joy while we were in quarantine,” says Hattie.

As the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic loomed over North Dakota, many senior citizens became socially isolated. One of the most at-risk populations, elderly people could no longer receive in-person visits from family and friends. For many, that  isolation created feelings of loneliness, which, according to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, can lead to poorer health and quality of life.

Hattie felt called to action. Her goal — to fight loneliness one letter at a time. “I wanted to spread joy immediately,” says Hattie. “They weren’t getting any people in to see them at the long-term facilities, and I thought, ‘We need to start this right away. We need to get letters. We need to make people happy.

We need to spread joy to this world right now.’” Hattie enlisted the help of family and friends, and the letter writing effort quickly gained momentum. Pretty soon, Hattie was receiving letters from as a far away as Arizona. A few local businesses even caught the bug. It turns out, spreading joy is contagious.

“I was bewildered,” says Hattie. “It started off super small, and it just kept growing and growing. And, it made me so happy. I remember filling this huge basket of letters, and I would sit there and count. I remember getting to 225, and I was like, ‘Holy! We have 225 letters, Mom! That’s crazy!’ And the next week, we got 450 letters.”

Hattie contacted local long-term care facilities to ask if they were interested in receiving letters. So far, she’s sent letters to more than 600 seniors across the state. The biggest mailing went to Touchmark, in Bismarck, where her grandfather’s friend — the man who inspired the letter writing effort — lives. More than 200 Touchmark residents received a letter.

“At Touchmark, we build our programming around seven dimensions of wellness, and emotional wellness is one of the seven areas of focus,” says Resident Services Director Destiny Sisk, Touchmark on West Century.

“Hattie’s Meaningful Mail was a perfect addition during a time when everything was changing due to the pandemic. Residents appreciated getting notes from people throughout the greater community, and they found comfort in knowing others were thinking of them and wishing them well.”

Activity staff at Missouri Slope, also in Bismarck, say the letters brought smiles to all who received them. In fact, many residents still have them hanging up in their rooms months later. And it wasn’t only those who received letters that found joy through Meaningful Mail.

“My family was stuck at home, too. It was something for us to do to bring us some joy and also spread joy to others,” says Hattie. “It brought us closer together, and we had a lot of fun packaging the letters. Me and my dad got really close. It was fun to have something to do with him.

He’s a big mentor to me, and it was fun to spend time with him.” Hattie’s parents are incredibly proud of what’s she’s accomplished.

“I’m very proud of her for thinking of others and even more so for finding many other compassionate letter writers, ultimately gaining strength in numbers to make a large impact towards the loneliness that many seniors were feeling during the limited access to family during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Hattie’s father, Paul Fitterer.

“It was really fun to work on this as a family, especially seeing the contributions from so many others, young and old, that wrote these really heartfelt letters and created amazing pictures to brighten a stranger’s day.”

Hattie says she would like to see Meaningful Mail continue well into the future. She’s currently working to set up a letter writing program at Century High School that would allow students to earn service hours for National Honor Society.

“When the pandemic is over, I don’t want this to end. I think it would be a great thing to keep going. It doesn’t hurt to make someone’s day a little brighter.” If you would like to help Hattie spread joy through the Meaningful Mail campaign, visit http://bit.ly/2QPpeSs or follow Meaningful.Mail on Instagram.

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