Jacob Cramer saw firsthand the loneliness felt by the older generation at the local senior living community at which he volunteered. Visiting residents one-on-one, he quickly came to realize that he was often the only person to visit several of the occupants in the community.
Cramer took it upon himself to start writing letters for the people in the community in which he volunteered, a passion that eventually grew into the 501(c)(3) charity Love For Our Elders.
Founded by Cramer in 2013, the organization accepts letters from people from around the country and even internationally and then mails them to elders at senior living communities around the world.
In 2018, Anthem resident Emma Suttell joined the organization.
“My sophomore year of high school I was selected to be one of 50 reporters for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, and so I was flown out to New York for a training. And when I was there, I met this kid Jacob Cramer, and we hit off and became friends on this trip,” Suttell recalled. “He told me about his charity Love For Our Elders, which was formerly Love for the Elderly.”
Months later, while looking at the charity’s Twitter account, Suttell saw an opportunity for a communications and social media intern position and applied. After being chosen by the board, she began her internship.
“I started as his intern, and I was supposed to only be involved for about six months running the social media channels, and it just went passed that,” Suttell explained. “In October 2019, after about a year, he called me and asked me if I would consider a permanent role on the team.”
Cramer, currently a junior at Yale, added Suttell and Adi Breitman to permanent roles within the donation-funded charity.
“I was super into journalism and was writing for 85086 Magazine, so I said, ‘Yeah, why not,’” Suttell said. “I helped found a part of the charity called Senior Storybook, which I am now the director of and have been for quite a while now.
“The purpose of Senior Storybook is we collect guest contributions to our website from elders worldwide and publish them. Basically, my role is doing the outreach for that, collecting those stories, editing them and publishing them on our website.”
In 550 to 800 words, people can tell the story, or part of one, about an elder in their life — paired with a photo — for publication and eventual posting on the charity’s website and social media accounts.
Suttell, who plans on attending University of Florida in the fall, was excited for the opportunity to be a part of the charity to “have some more experience in a communications-based role,” because she plans on majoring in public relations in college.
“The real drive behind (being a part of the charity) was I have always loved volunteering my entire life, especially volunteering with organizations that are very people-based and very focused on helping others within my community and not necessarily just local organizations,” Suttell said.
She also was the president of a chapter of the Veterans Heritage Project at her high school, “which is a very similar concept where we interview veterans, write their stories and publish it in a book every year.
“I just loved getting involved with people, and I think it’s just cool to hear stories, especially from people who are much older and always wiser than me,” Suttell said.
Within the last year, the charity grew to a membership of 12 people, and it had the ability to send out 90,000 letters in 2020 alone.
“I think in 2021 so far there has been a little over 15,000 letters sent already, and it’s crazy that so many people responded to this call to action,” Suttell said, noting that there is even a role for someone who just manages requests to receive letters from senior living facilities. “It really is a full-scale operation now.”
On Feb. 26, the organization held “Letter to an Elder Day,” consisting of a Zoom call of 200 participants who wrote letters to elders.
“Love For Our Elders because of COVID, I want to say was actually lucky to receive a boost,” Suttell said. “The charity has always been focused on helping seniors feel less alone, because senior facilities can often be a little isolating because sometimes they don’t have family members visiting them very often and they are kind of just surrounded by each other.”
Suttell said their mission was “10 times more important” during this past year, as several senior living facilities closed their doors for visitors during lockdown. The charity currently has a public relations intern who has been sending out press releases to spread the word, resulting in the organization being published “in just about every media format this year,” according to Suttell.
“The pandemic has really made us go into overdrive with what we do, and we are very lucky to say that we’ve been prosperous during this time, because a lot of nonprofits haven’t seen that happen for them,” Suttell said.
“But when people went into lockdown and they were looking for things to do, especially children, high school students and college students who are looking for some academic stimulation or something to do, writing a letter to someone you don’t know — kind of this one-way pen pal avenue — became a really viable option and a really exciting option for people.”
Letters are sent to a P.O. box in Ohio, where Cramer’s father sorts through thousands of letters that need to be read and distributed to participating senior facilities.
When Suttell attends the University of Florida in the fall, she said she will be “happy to provide and happy to volunteer” for the organization as long as there is a need for her. Over the years she has worked her way from being a social media intern to “interim director of the entire charity when Jacob studied abroad in Spain for two months” and eventually back to director of Senior Storybook.
“It’s just been a wild ride,” Suttell said. “I love what I do, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The charity’s next project is an effort to collect 31 stories that will be published each day in May, National Historic Month.
“Usually we publish about eight to 10 stories a month, so I’m shooting for the full 31,” Suttell said. “We have a social media following of about 30,000 across all platforms, so people’s stories will be read.
“I’ve had middle school and high school students write incredible stories about seniors in their lives, and I’ve had published authors write incredible stories. That really is open to everyone, and I think it’s so fun and a way to document the life of a senior in your life or just a particular instance in their lives. People love reading them, and we get so many emails of people just being inspired by that.”
For more information about the charity and how and where to send letters, go to loveforourelders.org or follow on Facebook and Instagram @loveforourelders and Twitter @love4ourelders.