“I understand how hard it is to be away from your family, but someone loves and cares about you,” a Youth Villages child wrote.

When Tangina Sanders, manager of Youth Villages’ Chris Crye Mentoring Program, asked children participating in the program at Youth Villages to write letters to nursing home residents, she didn’t anticipate the reaction the kids would have to the project.

“They really connected. Some of us were in tears when we read the letters,” she said. “Many of the children we help have been abused or neglected or have experienced difficult family problems. They know what it feels like to be separated from the people they love, to be lonely.” Children used crayons and markers to make their letters stand out.

The Memphis Grizzlies Foundation challenged each of its mentoring partners to do a service project as part of Martin Luther King Day. Sanders chose the letter writing activity because the kids could do it in their campus schoolrooms and to help them learn to express their feelings through writing. The letters will be delivered to nursing home residents on Monday.

Youth Villages mentoring program matches children receiving help on its residential campuses with volunteer mentors. Mentors can visit kids on campus and take them for outings in the community — to the movies, a restaurant or to church services.

Mentoring support often makes the most difference for a child, Sanders said.

“Many of our children have been separated from their parents and siblings. They don’t have visitors on campus,” she said. “Having someone from the community volunteer to spend time with them lets them know people really do care about them.”

The program is funded entirely through donations, including the proceeds from the annual Soup Sunday at the FedEx Forum, Jan. 29 and through the Chris Crye Fund. For more information about Soup Sunday or for tickets, click here.