State supported living centers and state hospitals across Texas are using pen pal programs to help their residents and patients stay connected with their communities during the pandemic.

Residents of living centers include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and patients of state hospitals include people with mental health issues. Although officials consider socialization to be important to maintaining residents’ good health, the coronavirus pandemic led to limits on group activities, communal dining and visits with relatives and volunteers.

Pen pal programs at several state hospitals and state supported living centers allow others to send encouraging letters and cards to residents and patients. Volunteers can send positive messages, drawings or stories about what they are doing for fun. Volunteers throughout Texas have already sent more than 900 cards and letters, and some have received responses as part of the program, which facility staff help to coordinate.

Anyone interested in volunteering can fill out a volunteer application at texashhs.secure.force.com/Volunteer/. For information about how to join the pen pal program, email VolunteerHHSC@hhsc.state.tx.us. Participating facilities which include Austin State Hospital, Austin State Supported Living Center, Richmond State Supported Living Center and San Antonio State Hospital.

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