Cynthia Harper receives an art set from her LyondellBasell pen pal Melanie Hughes after meeting her for the first time.
| Jazmine and her LyondellBasell pen pal Maribel Zepeda exchange smiles as they meet for the first time.
It’s been a year long wait, but on May 18, over 140 Richey Elementary third and fourth grade students finally put a face to the names in their letters as they met their LyondellBasell pen pals face-to-face.
Judging from the exchange of smiles and chatter that filled the school cafeteria that day, they might agree that the wait was worth it.
“It’s amazing to finally get to meet her,” Cynthia Harper, a Richey student said about her pen pal Melanie Hughes.
When the two pen pals met, they exchanged gifts. Hughes learned about Harper’s love of fashion design through the letters and provided her with an art set.
“She’s been sending me a bunch of gifts and letters that encouraged me to stay in school, follow my dreams of fashion design, never give up and reach for the stars,” Harper said.
The pen pal program is part of a longstanding partnership between LyondellBasell Industries and the Richey community that was initiated by the company’s community relations liaison Denise Jennings 25 years ago.
“Our company had a good volunteer base and employees were looking for ways to become more engaged in our community outreach efforts, particularly with our adopted school, Richey Elementary,” Jennings said. “Employees want to volunteer, but they may not have time. The pen pal program allows them to get involved with the school without making a huge time commitment.”
The pen pal program offers LyondellBasell employees the opportunity to make a difference by writing letters to students throughout the year. The students build their reading and writing skills and the adult pen pals mentor the students by encouraging them to do well in school and sharing stories about what they do at work.
“It is a ‘win-win’ for both the employees and the students,” said Jennings. “We started out with a small group of about 30 pen pal volunteers and it has grown to about 140 today.”
The power of this pen pal program extends across generations. In 2007, Monique Martinez, former Rayburn vocational office education (VOE) student, was a pen pal to Destiny Azanza who is currently a Pasadena High VOE, working for LyondellBasell. Azanza was inspired to pay it forward and is now a pen pal to Richey student, Briana Garcia. They represent three generations of pen pals.
“It’s amazing that this program is still going on,” Azanza said. “It’s interesting to have experienced this from both sides, as a student and now as an employee.”
Phyllis Salinas, Richey peer facilitator and pen pal coordinator, said her favorite part about the partnership is witnessing the special bond between Richey students and LyondellBasell employees.
“The students are able to share their lives, ask questions and learn from local professionals,” Salinas said. “LyondellBasell employees willingly give of themselves in order to service the children of Richey Elementary. They are a model for all companies who partner with schools on how to make a positive impact on students.”
Three generations of pen pals came together at Richey. Pictured from left to right: Monique Martinez, Briana Garcia and Destiny Azanza.
Francesca Gomez shares a laugh with her student pen pal Bryana.
LyondellBasell plant manager Jerome Mauvigney, of France, meets his pen pal Chelsi.
LyondellBasell employee Serapio Garza surprises his pen pal Santos with a new game.
LyondellBasell community relations liaison Denise Jennings is honored during the celebration with a glass plaque for building the long-time partnership between Richey and the company. Also pictured: Richey assistant principal Imelda De La Cruz (right).