11:34 AM

UHD's Gator Pen Pals Sharing Messages of Hope


By Mike Emery

A short note can make a big difference in the life of a senior who may feel isolated during the pandemic.

Thanks to more than 20 University of Houston-Downtown students, area seniors are receiving notes and cards to let them know that they aren’t alone during this time. In recent months, the Gator Pen Pal Program has brought together students to write letters and create cards that are delivered to members of Houston’s senior community.

Chemistry major Mahalia Ogude launched this project with the goal of helping her fellow Houstonians during the pandemic.

“I wanted to step up and do something positive to make a difference … something in which I can also get my peers involved and remind people that they are not alone,” she said.

Gator Pen Pals have been corresponding with area seniors via letters, and recently, crafted handmade Thanksgiving-themed cards to help brighten the season. The cards were part of what she calls Autumn Happy Mail, which also included decorations, jokes, hot cocoa and word searches (all focused around the fall season). These Happy Mail packets were delivered to 26 residents of a retirement facility.

“One of the goals of this project is to increase communication opportunities among the elderly by giving them the option to become pen pals for a semester with a UHD student,” Ogude said. “In doing so, students are helping to minimize loneliness among the elderly by giving them another way to feel needed and find a sense of joy by sharing stories of their memorable experiences and accomplishments, as well as sharing advice and knowledge.”

Following finals, Ogude hopes to bring additional cheer to seniors with more Happy Mail focused on December holidays.

“This holiday season is like no other for many seniors who no longer live with their families,” she said. “Many nursing homes are on lockdown because of the pandemic. Residents are unable to get visits from family or interact with each other. I greatly appreciate the time, effort and commitment my peers have put into connecting with the elderly and bringing a smile to their faces. It is absolutely beautiful what we can accomplish when we work together. It is because of caring and selfless UHD students that the Gator Pen Pal Program has made an impact this semester and this holiday season.” 

Students interested in becoming Gator Pen Pals should reach out to Ogude at GatorPenPal@gmail.com.


About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.