“Dear Stranger” an Oregonian Way to Connect with Others

The pandemic, going into yet another wave, has left many feeling isolated. The Oregon Humanities “Dear Stranger”  project connects Oregonians the old-fashioned way through writing and exchanging letters.  

When you sign up, you write a letter to a stranger – using prompts or on whatever you want – and send it into the program. They match you with a stranger – not in your zip code – who receives your letter, and you receive theirs. The exchange is anonymous, and you can share as much or as little about yourself as you like.  

Since 2014, more than 1,000 Oregonians have exchanged letters. 

“The need for human connection feels more urgent than ever,” Ben Waterhouse, communications manager for Oregon Humanities and creator of the Dear Stranger project, told The Newberg Graphic. “We can’t bring people together in person right now, but we can still provide ways to reach out and be heard.” 

According to Oregon Humanities, the Dear Stranger project is designed to allow people of any age – including people who are incarcerated – to participate, and to do so anonymously should they choose with their offices as the intermediary. Participants are required to sign a form indicating their understanding that Oregon Humanities is not responsible for the content of letters and that, if they are under eighteen, they have a parent or guardian’s permission to participate. They also screen each letter for offensive content, and scan them for their archives. 

The Oregon Humanities’ instructions for participating can be found on their website, linked to above. Basically, write a letter beginning “Dear Stranger.” They recommend that you write at least two pages, but more pages are fine. Feel free to include a photo, drawing, recipe – anything that fits in an envelope.  

Below is an example of what one might write: 

“For this Dear Stranger round, write about what lies beyond the here and now. When you think of the future, what do you see? Think about yourself, your life, your surroundings, the world in general: What are your hopes, your dreams? What are your fears? Do you see parts of the past, or something completely new—or perhaps both?” 

When you’ve completed your letter, go online to complete the Dear Stranger release form. Letters cannot be exchanged without a release. 

Be sure to write your name and return address on your envelope so the project can match your letter with your release form. Then mail your letter to: 

 

Dear Stranger c/o Oregon Humanities

921 SW Washington St., #150

Portland, Oregon  97205

 

Get your “Dear Stranger” letter in before Feb. 28. Return letters will be mailed to participants in early March. 

 

By Stacey Newman Weldon