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‘We all care about our students’: parents writing letters to students in isolation

<p>Letters from Miami University moms are commonly used for students in isolation.</p>

Letters from Miami University moms are commonly used for students in isolation.

“Hello from a mom in northeast Ohio!” 

Jennifer Young, who identifies as the mom from northeast Ohio, whipped out her blue pen and stationary to write this opening line. 

The recipient of the letter? 

A student freshly sent to a quarantine location at Miami University. 

Though Miami just received 3,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and students are taking advantage of the clinics, COVID-19 cases among students have remained relatively steady throughout the semester. 

Whether they contracted COVID-19 or were identified as a close contact, many students have found themselves trudging across campus to an isolation or quarantine residence hall for a 10- to 14-day stay. 

Upon arrival to the quarantine or isolation residence hall, students are met with, among many things, a care package. The bag includes snacks, art materials, a mug, a blanket and a personal touch — a handwritten note from a Miami family member.

The letters come straight from members of the Miami Parents and Family Members page on Facebook, where just less than 12 thousand parents and grandparents congregate to discuss Miami and their students. 

Photo by Zach Reichman | The Miami Student

Letters written by Miami moms aim to help ease students transitions into isolation.

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Susan Osha, mother to a Miami senior, said the group values one thing above all: their students. 

“Our country disagrees on politics and religion and all these other things,” Osha said. “But the one thing that we all could agree on is that we all care about our students.” 

Osha and Susan Keiffer are the mothers responsible for organizing the effort to create care packages and letters for isolated students. The idea came from an old event: Free Hugs and Snacks. 

The weekend before finals week, parents from all over would send in snacks and gather in front of King Library to greet students with a free snack and a hug. Osha said it was a great way to let students know there were people rooting for their success. 

Due to COVID-19, though, the event had to be canceled this spring and last spring. 

Osha said she wanted to find a new way to support students. Both her children got COVID-19, and Osha said she could sense how hard it was on them. 

“I was worried about their health, but I was also worried about their emotional wellbeing,” she said. “It's a scary time, right? And being a college student is tough enough, and then to have this on top of it.”

As a survivor of breast cancer, Osha said she also knows what it’s like to receive an outpouring of love from people who don’t even know you. 

“I can't repay those kinds of favors — the kindness that people just showered on my family over and over again — but I can try to pay things forward,” Osha said. 

The two Susans got to work organizing Amazon lists for snacks and asked each family member to commit to writing 10 letters for students. Young, the mother with the blue pen and stationery, ended up writing 120 letters. 

Working in communications, Young has had to adapt to the changing world of technology. But Young said she still appreciates the personalized and physical writing. 

“There's a personal touch to it that I think we've lost so much in this digital world,” Young said. “Digital's great, but you know, if I were stuck alone in a room for a while, I think a handwritten note would bring me some joy. So I just wanted to be part of that.”

Mark Pontious, director of family and parent programs, said although he’s not surprised by the amount of parents that stepped up, it’s a beautiful thing to see how much parents care for their students. 

“It was heartwarming to see how fast they stepped up,” Pontious said. 

Alexis Bebout, a psychology and sociology double major, was sent to quarantine right before Easter weekend. Bebout lives just less than four hours away, and the holiday would have been the only time to see her family this semester. Though her travel plans were canceled, she said the letter brought up her spirits. 

“It was very cute, very sweet,” Bebout said. “I read it multiple times while I was in quarantine because it was just so nice, and I needed something nice in my life when I was sad.”

The letter from a parent meant a little more to Bebout than it would a typical student. 

“Obviously I didn't know the person — they didn't give me a name or anything, it just said ‘Miami mom’ — but it was still a cute letter, and I liked that it was from a mom, considering I don't have a mom anymore,” Bebout said. 

Bebout’s mom passed away her senior year of high school. 

She doesn’t have the motherly support during her college years, but the letter reminded her that parents are out there rooting for her to succeed. 

That’s exactly why Young wanted to write the letters. Though her daughter has not been sent to quarantine, Young hopes that everyone can feel a little bit of love from her writing. 

“I just hope it gives everybody an opportunity to smile, provides comfort,” Young said, “because I know not everybody's feeling well and having that personal touch from home — even if it's not their mom, maybe a mom — is helpful.”