Letter to Doris: Nell Shares The Importance of Providing a Hand Up

We are so grateful for all that our volunteers do—from supporting us administratively, to carefully reviewing each letter, to serving as advocates for clients—to help make our grant-making possible. Each volunteer brings a thoughtful perspective, shaped by his or her unique experience, that enriches our work and enables us to better fulfill Doris’ philanthropic vision. With passion and unwavering commitment, our volunteers teach us the importance of providing a hand up each and every day.

During this back-to-school season, we are thrilled to feature Nell, a Letter Reader who has taught in more ways than one. A retired school teacher of nearly 40 years, Nell has volunteered with us for the last two years and has read nearly 400 letters written by individuals to the Letters Foundation.

Reflecting on her experience as a Letter Reader, Nell wrote a letter to Doris about the importance of letters and empowering those who are experiencing hard luck:


My Dear Doris,

I am so thrilled to have a chance to write this letter to you.  I am of the generation of letter writers. My mother was born in the North Georgia mountains and married a soldier from Massachusetts during World War Two.  Moving away from her beloved family was difficult, to say the least. As a child, I remember watching her wait for the mail, hoping for a letter from “home.”  The utter joy on her face when one arrived is something I carry in my heart even to this day.

Letters are some of my most prized possessions, squirreled away in family cookbooks and desk drawers, never to be discarded, but treasured like an old friend.  They are letters from my parents, grandparents, my children, precious grandchildren, authors I have admired, love letters from my sweet husband, and politicians I have agreed with, or not.

My most recent batch of letters came upon my retirement from teaching, after 38 years at the same school, from former students, parents, and staff.  A good friend and fellow teacher used Facebook to put out the call to write me a letter, to wish me well and share a memory. The best gift I could have ever asked for.

Imagine my delight, then, when in my first year of retirement I read an article in the Boston Globe about your search for a few inspired letter readers.  Well, I can do this, I thought! Perfect! It was August, and I admit that I was feeling a few bittersweet pangs about not returning to school that fall. What would I do?  What is my purpose? I loved the precious time with my husband, children, new grandchildren and my books, but I needed to be connected to a new community, and there you were.

Sitting down to write my letter to you, I simply stated my philosophy that I carried over from teaching.  I believe you can change the world, one person at a time. In my first few years of teaching I would try to “make everything better” for my students.  And then I realized I had to empower them, help them believe in themselves, so they could survive and grow in the world they were living in. In truth, a hand up, not a hand out.  You took a chance on me, and I have been a proud Letters Foundation volunteer for two years since.


“I believe you can change the world, one person at a time.”


Thank you for allowing me to carry out your vision, Doris.  Reading letters has made me humble in the face of so much adversity our clients struggle with.  As a country, we must do better for our young and our old, our medically fragile, and simply, the lost souls that are ghosts in our everyday world.  You would be so proud of the staff and volunteers endeavoring to make that a reality. The young people in the office give me hope for the future in these turbulent times. Woven into every conversation is the common thread of respect and compassion.  I know your foundation has made a difference to so many.

For the Letter Readers at the “Thursday Table”—well, I love our time together. As ladies of a “certain age” we have acquired wisdom from our life experiences that allows us the freedom to think outside the box.  And when we are stuck, we simply ask ourselves,”What would Doris do?” Somehow that always brings us to our answer.

With hope in my heart,


Letters Foundation volunteer, Nell, pictured with her two granddaughters.