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As Oregonians practice social distancing in hope of slowing the COVID-19 pandemic, many are searching for ways to find and maintain social connections across physical distance. Dear Stranger, a letter-exchange project from Oregon Humanities, offers a chance for connection by inviting Oregonians to exchange a letter with someone they’ve never met.
Oregon Humanities is a statewide organization that brings people together to talk, listen and learn from one another. “With many of us isolated physically this spring, the need for human connection feels more urgent than ever,” says Ben Waterhouse, communications manager for Oregon Humanities and creator of the Dear Stranger project. “We can’t bring people together in person right now, but we can still provide ways to reach out and be heard.”
The aim of Dear Stranger is to create shared understanding among Oregonians with different backgrounds, experiences and beliefs. The premise is simple: Write a letter, get a letter and make a new connection. Oregon Humanities has run Dear Stranger on and off since 2014. More than 500 people have exchanged letters through the project.
“This year, we’d hoped to get people thinking about their priorities and values in the coming elections,” Waterhouse says. “But given the circumstances, we’re inviting people to write about COVID-19, or anything else that’s on their minds.”
Prompts for writing and instructions for participation are available on the Oregon Humanities website at oregonhumanities.org. Participants should send their letters to Oregon Humanities along with a signed permission form (also available at oregonhumanities.org). Letters are swapped anonymously, and each person receives a letter from the person who received the one they wrote. What happens next is up to the writers. If they’d like to write back, they can do so through Oregon Humanities. Youth are welcome to participate with a signed consent form.
Letters should be addressed to Oregon Humanities, Attn: Dear Stranger, 921 SW Washington St., Suite 150, Portland, OR 97205. Oregon Humanities will exchange letters mailed through May 30, 2020.
Questions about Dear Stranger should be directed to Ben Waterhouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.