SINGAPORE - When marketing analyst Valerie Ho, 28, came across the story of a nursing home that used pen pals to keep their seniors engaged during last year's circuit breaker, she decided to take it one step further.
She launched Penpals in the Community a few months later - getting young volunteers to write letters to seniors to help them improve their mental well-being, and foster intergenerational bonds.
Today, the initiative manages over 30 pairs of pen pals, with about 100 young volunteers waiting in the wings to be matched with an elderly pen pal.
Ms Ho's initiative was among the 14 ground-up movements and three Voices of Loving Kindness inducted into the Singapore Kindness Movement's (SKM) Kindred Spirit Circle on Kindness Day SG on Friday (May 21).
SKM general secretary William Wan said: "For the past 10 years, we have been celebrating everyday Singaporeans who have done their part in building a nation of kindness. These men and women are truly heroes."
Since its inception in 2012, the Kindred Spirit Circle has inducted over 130 ground-up movements, which are self-initiated volunteer projects that help promote kindness, and Voices of Loving Kindness, individuals who embody the spirit of kindness and graciousness.
Penpals in the Community pairs volunteers - who can sign up through its Instagram page - with senior citizens from other community initiatives such as Kampung Kakis.
Ms Ho said the medium of letter writing makes reaching out to the elderly easier, especially when many are stuck at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"For seniors, this is a traditional, old-school way of communicating, so it might be more familiar and bring back memories for them," she said.
"A lot of the seniors are not very proficient in using technological devices, so I thought this could be a good way to encourage them to start connecting with younger people."
Veteran radio presenter Brian Richmond, 74, was recognised as a Voice of Loving Kindness for encouraging his listeners on the Vintage Showcase to be kind. He does so when he ends his show on Gold 90.5 every Sunday.
He said a subtle approach works as it avoids sounding cliched. Instead, it gently ingrains the importance of kindness and nudges people into changing their behaviour.
"It has to be subtle messaging. If it starts sounding like propaganda, people's minds will automatically turn off," he said.
Mr Richmond added that compared with other societies, many of which have experienced hate and violence, Singapore is very safe and kind.
"By and large, we are living in a very safe country with people who are very empathetic and sympathetic. It is a society where people care a lot for each other."
Guest of honour Edwin Tong, who is the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, stressed that preserving such a society is even more important today with the Covid-19 pandemic increasing strains on society.
"We must resist the temptation to turn inwards, the temptation to retreat into an individualistic, protectionist self… Instead, we must continue to be a kind and gracious society."