Shepherd residents meet pen pal

HOWLAND – Residents of Shepherd of the Valley in Howland were able to meet their Army pen pal in person when he recently came to visit with them at the nursing home.

The residents have been writing to Pvt. Brandon McDaniels of Newton Falls.

McDaniels, 20, stopped at Shepherd of the Valley on his way to his new assignment in Kansas, and visited the residents who helped him through basic training with their letters and cards.

Traci Luther, activity director, said the residents were writing letters to friends when Helen Gould, an activity assistant, suggested they write to McDaniels while he was in basic training at Fort Benning, Ala.

“He was very homesick and she thought he would love hearing from home,” Luther said.

Cards and letters were sent to McDaniels, who wrote back saying how appreciated the cards and letters.

Gould, activity assistant, said 35 residents wrote letters and made cards.

“I know the family from Newton Falls and saw his father, who told me he was homesick. We write letters to friends, so I though why not have them write to someone else? He wrote back to us, which the residents liked,” Gould said.

Luther said while McDaniels was home for a few days he stopped by to meet his “Freedom Writers” to thank them for their kindness and support.

“I was shocked at first when I received all the cards. It was a nice surprise,” McDaniels said.

Tamera Salvino, associate director, said the residents were excited to meet McDaniels in person.

McDaniels said for basic training, he and others had to walk 10 miles some days. He said when he returns to the Army to serve out his four years, he will be a tank driver.

McDaniels showed some of his medals, which were for sharpshooting and marksmanship.

McDaniels greeted and shook hands with the seniors and thanked them for the letters.

George Holko, an Air Force veteran and nursing home resident, said he was impressed by McDaniels’ story and service.

John Benson, an Army veteran serving during World War II, presented a framed Achievement Award from the residents congratulating McDaniels on graduating from basic and advanced individual training, and thanking him.

The Newton Falls resident is the son of Rodney McDaniels of Newton Falls, who was with him at the nursing home, and Danette Gibson of Howland. McDaniels is a 2012 graduate of Newton Falls High School.