Addressing the “epidemic” of loneliness through letters

Oregon Humanities invites Oregonians to exchange letters in Dear Stranger, a penpal project with a twist.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The challenges of recent years have left many Oregonians feeling disconnected and alone: COVID, strident partisanship and deepening social divides all make it harder to connect with others. This spring, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said the nation is facing an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation.” One small effort to address this epidemic is Dear Stranger, a letter-exchange project from Oregon Humanities that offers a chance for connection by inviting Oregonians to write letters with someone they’ve never met.

Oregon Humanities is a statewide organization that brings people together to talk, listen and learn from one another. “Dear Stranger asks us to intentionally reflect and share about our experiences,” says Lucy Solares-Steger, the program coordinator at Oregon Humanities who runs the Dear Stranger project. “While at first this can be daunting or challenging, many letter writers find that they’re able to work through these experiences by writing them out and through this, make a really impactful connection with another person.”

The aim of Dear Stranger is to create shared understanding among Oregonians with different backgrounds, experiences and beliefs. The premise is simple: Write a letter, get a letter and make a new connection. Oregon Humanities has operated Dear Stranger since 2014, with each round of the project asking writers to address a different question or theme. More than one thousand Oregonians have exchanged letters through the project to date.

This spring’s prompt for writers is about “human experiences, personal or general, that bring both joy and pain: for example, parenthood, adolescence or physical labor. What times in your life have been both bitter and sweet? When is the joy worth the pain?”

Instructions for participation are available on the Oregon Humanities website at Letters are swapped anonymously, and each person receives a letter from the person who received the one they wrote. What happens next is up to the writers. If they’d like to write back, they can do so through Oregon Humanities.

Letters should be addressed to Oregon Humanities, Attn: Dear Stranger, 610 SW Alder St., Suite 1111, Portland, OR, 97205. Oregon Humanities will exchange letters mailed by July 14, 2023.

Questions about Dear Stranger should be directed to

Oregon Humanities connects people and communities through conversation, storytelling and participatory programs to inspire understanding and collaborative change. More information about our programs and publications — which include the Conversation Project, Consider This, Humanity in Perspective, Public Program Grants, So Much Together and Oregon Humanities magazine — can be found at Oregon Humanities is an independent, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities and a partner of the Oregon Cultural Trust.