J.B. Blackford

Refine. Hone. Distill. The self is a text, too.

RE: Thanks for the mail, Donors Choose!

“Fun” mail is a luxury anymore.

Almost every day, my mailbox brims with recyclable junk, bills, and “grown-up” stuff to deal with. On some rare, peaceful days, the mailbox is empty. I nearly never feel the excitement that I did when I was a kid with pen-pals: Every day, retrieving the mail was a ritual of possibility.

When I donated to a Donors Choose project in which a local teacher was trying to fund a listening and fluency center for her second-grade class, I knew that students often wrote thank-you notes, but I had forgotten all about it until a few days ago.

My first sighting of the large, white envelope in my mailbox made me think, Oh great, what kind of paperwork or pain-in-the-butt errand will be associated with this? But when I picked it up and saw “Donors Choose” on the return address, I felt the familiar thrill from my pen-pal days. There is something comforting and energizing about receiving mail that was handwritten expressly by one person with the knowledge that you would get it. It creates a connection that I find essential in an automated, digitized world, whether I’m opening a card from a family member or a stack of drawings from elementary school students.

Each child wrote a few lines thanking me for their listening center, and each note was topped with a drawing.

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Most students drew the new listening center (a feat which I can’t help but respect considering that I still can’t draw beyond a stick figure).

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And a few children drew me, which really made me smile as I remember drawing pictures like this during my own childhood, and now I’m the adult receiving the drawings.

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The notes showcased the personalities of each student, letting me see their excitement and their gratitude.

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I find this aspect of the Donors Choose program to be fantastic for so many reasons.

First and foremost, it perpetuates traditions of handwritten correspondence, specifically when it comes to thank-yous. Writing this particular piece of mail is something that was ingrained in me as a child and that I continue to do to this day; it’s also a dying practice that I hope won’t ever be entirely extinguished because of people who continue to recognize its value.

Secondly, as crowdsourcing burgeons and allows us to rely more on our community and less on government funding, having these children write thank-you notes reminds them that there are people out there who care, who are invested in their education, and who will not let them down.

Lastly, donating is often done without any expectations from the donor that he or she will receive anything in return, but the notes from the students take this experience just a little further and ensure that donors know their contribution actually did make a difference. It may seem like such a simple, small element, having a child jot down a few words and draw a picture, but it invigorates cycles in many ways: Maybe these kids will keep writing, even if it’s just thank-you notes, and I know that I will, for certain, be returning to Donors Choose time after time, and happily anticipating just a little bit of “fun mail.”

Do you or your children still write thank-you notes? And do you think that the possibility of receiving a handwritten thank-you from a child would be impetus enough for you to donate?


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