Become a pen pal to residents at Texas state hospitals, state-assisted living centers


AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Health and Human Services department is encouraging people to sign up for a new pen pal program, aimed at adding an element of socialization to the lives of residents at state hospitals and state-run assisted living centers.

Jana Russell, a recreation therapy specialist at Austin State Hospital, said socializing is a key part of any patient’s healing, especially those with mental health issues.

“If you don’t feel safe and secure and loved, you can’t work on anything else. You can’t go any deeper into those things, so we’re doing everything we can to help them feel safe and secure and supported so that they can keep working on all the things that they need to work on to find healing,” Russell explained.

Melissa Quackenbush has been volunteering for Austin State Hospital since the beginning of the year. When the pandemic shut everything down, she was eager to find a way to help, even though her services were no longer needed in person.

She said the letters offered the perfect opportunity.

“I tried to tell people like, this is hard for everyone. I imagine it’s difficult for you as well. But don’t feel alone. There’s still a lot of people out there that are thinking about you and caring about you,” Quackenbush said.

The cards stay anonymous, and the hospital takes care of delivering them directly to a patient.

Russell said that so far, the cards have brightened the days of any resident who receives one.

“The immediate feeling that they had … that they weren’t forgotten about, and that the world still existed outside of our small world,” Russell added.

Quackenbush said she gets more out of the program than she puts into it.

“When I got the letter, it was so great because, I don’t know about you, but it’s not very often that I get a personal letter in the post mail,” she said.

To become a pen pal, you can email HHSC at To sign up to be a volunteer, you can also go to its website.

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