pile of hand-made letters

Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, Alumnae Strengthen Connections

April 6, 2020

Across the country, Wellesley alumnae of all ages are helping each other in response to the coronavirus pandemic: They are dropping off groceries and prescriptions, easing the adverse effects of social distancing, and compiling lists of local businesses that offer online orders and curbside pick-up.

The Silicon Valley Wellesley Club was one of the first to leap into action, launching a Community Connections program for Bay Area alumnae. In mid-March, club president Nida Mirza ’05 sent a message to members announcing the club’s plan to connect alumnae by phone, video, email, and mail; drop off essential items for those in need; and match alumnae who can help with those who need assistance.

In Washington, D.C., club president Jessica Lee ’88 emailed her fellow members about their club’s initiative: “Please feel free to sign up to both offer or receive connections and assistance. This period of time is a perfect opportunity to embody Wellesley’s mission of Non Ministrari sed Ministrare.” The D.C. club recently held a conference call with the Wellesley Club of Los Angeles to discuss strategies and best practices as they seek to establish a similar initiative there.

While clubs are working locally, Wellesley students and alumnae are establishing connections over longer distances. Multiple pen pal campaigns have sprung up across the country to help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation that can arise as a result of social distancing.

“More than anything, it’s been awe-inspiring to see all these strong women come together to support each other, and all these alumnae who are willing to do anything to help out current students.”

Isabella Hedly ’23

After Isabella Hedly ’23 returned home to Seattle, she created a network between current students and alumnae to help ease herself and others into these new circumstances. “I like writing letters,” Hedly said. “I did it with friends from Wellesley over winter break, and I wanted to continue to connect other students.”

Hedly’s love of letter writing began during her childhood. “My grandmother used to write letters to me all the time growing up,” she said. “We’d exchange letters, and then my high school also had us exchange letters with students in other countries.”

So far, 16 alumnae and 30 students have answered Hedly’s invitation to join the project. “I just sent out the first round of matches,” Hedly said. She was excited to see so many fellow first-years express interest in the campaign. “My main hope is to help get rid of the sense of isolation that comes from this experience. More than anything, it’s been awe-inspiring to see all these strong women come together to support each other, and all these alumnae who are willing to do anything to help out current students.”

Hedly is already imagining next steps. “I thought it might be fun if we could all bake something together,” said Hedly, who ran a dairy-free bakery business from her home while she was in high school. “I love baking, so I thought we could try to have everyone make the same thing and see how it turns out.”

The first planned recipe? Chocolate chip cookies with extra vanilla and coconut oil.

Closer to campus, Lara Trimarco Prebble ’19 is also organizing a letter-writing initiative. Hunkered down in Cambridge, Mass., she is working remotely as a studio assistant for Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., the architecture firm that designed Wellesley’s Alumnae Valley, Pendleton West, and the new Science Center.

Trimarco Prebble’s initial idea was for the class of 2019 to communicate with each other. A class secretary, she reached out to Lisa Scanlon Mogolov ’99 at Wellesley magazine, to whom she regularly sends class notes, to figure out how her classmates could exchange letters. Scanlon Mogolov connected her with the Alumnae Office, which helped Trimarco Prebble expand her idea to include alumnae in other classes as well.

Hand-made letters from an alumna from the class of 2017.

“The WCAA made spreadsheets with all these addresses, and it was really fun because a lot of younger alumnae who decided to take part signed up for pen pals who were from their states,” said Trimarco Prebble. “It was fun to see younger alumnae say, ‘Oh! There’s an alumna from the class of 1949 that lives in my hometown,’ and choose them to write to. Otherwise, they may never have known that.”

The WCAA also matched pen pals by reunion cycle. “Maybe we’ll see them five years from now, or whenever the next reunion is,” Trimarco Prebble said.

Currently, members of the classes of 1999 to 2019 have volunteered to correspond with older alumnae from the classes of 1940 to 1959. So far, they’ve sent almost 1,300 letters.

Trimarco Prebble was moved to reach out to older alumnae in part because of social media posts showing family members communicating at a distance, through windows and across yards. “It made me think of a lot of older Wellesley alumnae who might be isolated and in similar situations,” she said. “I know how important having family come visit is. I also worked at reunion in 2019, and it was so much fun to connect with different classes, so I have always been looking for another opportunity to do so.”

Trimarco Prebble is already hard at work with fellow alumnae to coordinate additional engagement opportunities. “There’s a group of five of us who were on class council, and we’ve been working on planning mini-reunions on Zoom. We had one last week with about 20 of us, which was really fun. We’re going to try to do it again.”

Like Hedly, Trimarco Prebble has food on the brain: “We also started a cookbook, to commemorate our first year of cooking for ourselves.”

“Hopefully this pandemic is short-lived,” she added, “but it would be really nice if this campaign did go on longer. Wellesley is a very special place. You’re very connected with everyone you went to school there with, but it also has this beautiful history. I think it’s really good to connect with other generations too and understand that our year is just one small part of a story with the College.”