It was five months ago when 37-year-old Marlene Brooks, a resident of Park Hills, Missouri, received a seemingly random letter in the mail that changed her life.
“Mrs. ? Would you consider to become my friend?” the letter read. “I’m 90 years old, live alone, and all my friends have passed away. I am so lonesome and scared. Please, I pray for someone. Signed, Wanda Mills.”
It wasn’t until she received the letter that Marlene even knew someone lived in the house occupied by Wanda, which was across the street and two doors down from her own home.
Marlene went over the next day with cupcakes in hand, and their life-changing friendship quickly bloomed. She found out Wanda had been homebound for seven years because of the combined trouble with walking and hauling her oxygen tanks around. Her husband and sister had both passed away, along with one of her sons. Another son lived out of state, and although she had a third son who lived nearby, he didn’t visit often. She had caregivers, but they weren’t friends.
Although Wanda is now in a nursing home, Marlene and her family still visit her four times a week.
Marlene told CBS News that she regretted not spending enough time with her own grandmother, who died alone in hospice care, and this calling felt like redemption in her mind. She even took it a step further, recently forming an organization called Pen Pals for Seniors, which is geared toward ending isolation and loneliness for seniors.
“I mean, it could be any of us, and nobody should feel that way, ever,” she said.
As for Wanda, she is clear on who she credits for this unlikely friendship.
“God sent her,” she said.
Pen Pals for Seniors received an astounding 6,000 responses in its first month. About 500 letters have been exchanged, but they are seeking more pen pals willing to be a friend to a lonely senior, especially during the upcoming holiday season.