WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A program that started in North Carolina to connect people with Down syndrome during social distancing is going global.

Every week, 14-year-old Melia Griffin goes to check the mail in hopes she will receive a letter from her pen pal Jenna. She is one of 125 people participating in the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Winston-Salem’s pen pal program. After social distancing requirements forced the organization to cancel all of its events and programming, the group thought of a way to help members socially and emotionally connect. Melia’s mother, Kendra Griffin, said it’s doing exactly that.

“Getting her letters and knowing that there’s not that many people with Down syndrome so it’s comforting as a mom to know that there’s other families just like ours not just here in the Triad but all around the world really,” Kendra Griffin said.

Melia lives in North Carolina and her pen pal Jenna lives in Michigan. After three weeks of sending letters back and fourth, Melia said the two have created a special bond.

“I want to go to Michigan, and I want to see her,” Melia Griffin said.

There are many relationships being formed through this program. Clay Janke, 8, lives in Nebraska. His pen pal is Josiah from North Carolina. Clay’s mother, Leah Janke said it’s a welcome distraction for the entire family.

“There’s something about paper mail. We’re taking anything that’s fun and exciting right now while everyone’s at home, so getting paper mail has been really fun and Clay likes to run out and check the mail box and see if he has any mail,” Janke said.

The program keeps growing, with no end in sight. Down Syndrome Association board president, McNeil Cronin, said the group’s goal is to bring on as many people as possible.

“Right now we are at over 30 states in the U.S., three different countries, so we’ve gone international, and we have over 125 members currently, and we are really proud of that. It’s struck a core with people all over the world, and it started right here in Winston-Salem,” Cronin added.

Participants range from the ages of 1 to 48 and are all from different races and backgrounds.

If your child has Down syndrome and would be interested in participating in the pen pal program, you can e-mail Executive Director, Jay Callahan, at [email protected].

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