“Dear Stranger” statewide pen pal program launches round two


Erin Chance

The “Dear Strangers” letter exchange program offers a chance to write and receive a letter from a fellow Nebraskan. The second round will begin on Feb. 28. Graphic by Claire Redinger/The Gateway.

Humanities Nebraska has announced a second round of the “Dear Stranger” project in order to help Nebraskans ease the feeling of seclusion during the coronavirus pandemic. “Dear Stranger” is a letter-exchange that connects Nebraskans via mail to share experiences, beliefs and ideas.

This time around, Humanities Nebraska hopes to have an even better turn-out than when they first launched the program.

“Fifty people wrote letters during the first round. This felt like a success to us, as we weren’t able to do a lot of publicity,” said Mary Yager, associate director for Humanities Nebraska. “Between winter keeping people home in the hopefully waning days of the pandemic, as the vaccine is administered, February seems like a really great time to offer a second round of letter exchange.”

The project is designed for anyone, of any age to “write a letter, get a letter, and make a connection.” Participants can remain anonymous if they choose, and all contributors must complete a 2021 “Dear Stranger” participation form. The form indicates the understanding that Humanities Nebraska is not responsible for the content of any letter. There is also a parent or guardian’s permission signature for people ages 18 or younger.

Yager said her favorite part of “Dear Stranger” is the “excitement in the letters.” She said that it was common for participants to feel anxious during the pandemic, and writing and receiving a letter gave them something else to think about.

The theme for this round is “place.” The prompt reads: “In this time of social distancing, some of us have longed to go places or have reminisced about places we’ve been. Perhaps you are proud of the place you live or the place you and your family have come from, or are drawn to a place you often visit or hope to visit in the future. Interpret the theme as broadly as you are inspired to do. Because place is often about experiencing a location, consider sharing a postcard, photo, or artistic expression of the place you write about with your letter.”

“The program prompted us to write about the stories we would tell in the future looking back on this period in our lives, which was an encouraging way to think about the pandemic,” said first-round participant Tim Lundy. “It is a unique opportunity to get to hear about the experiences of a complete stranger directly, rather than from the news or the internet.”

With Lundy in New York City for graduate school, he appreciated the opportunity “Dear Stranger” gave him to connect with his home state. He said he also enjoyed listening to another person’s experience during the pandemic.

Humanities Nebraska got the idea for this project from a program of the same name at Oregon Humanities. This letter-exchange program was created in hopes of keeping Nebraskans connected, even when it feels like we’re the furthest apart we’ve ever been.

To join “Dear Stranger,” participants are asked to send their letter and signed participation form to Humanities Nebraska, 215 Centennial Mall South Ste 330, Lincoln, NE 68508. The deadline for letters is Feb. 28.