Nonprofit Spotlight: Letters to Strangers

PennyLoafer GivingGiving

In May, PennyLoafer donors collectively gave to Letters to Strangers (L2S)!

The Rundown

  • Years founded: 2013

  • Leadership: Diana Chao, a first-generation Chinese-American immigrant, founded L2S as a sophomore in high school. After being diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and feeling isolated from her peers, she found solace in writing letters “to no one and everyone”, and it’s since grown into a global youth movement. She’s won several awards, including the Global Changemakers award and L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth award in 2020.

  • Issue they address: youth mental health and isolation.

  • What they do: destigmatize mental illness and increase access to affordable, quality treatment for youth ages 13 to 24.

  • How they do it:

    • Letter writing: they have a free online platform + over 100 chapters (usually student groups on campuses) where anonymous letter exchanges occur to connect youth, allowing them to share their vulnerabilities and offer support to others struggling with mental health. You write one = you receive one.

    • Science-based peer education: partner with schools and mental health experts to provide mental health workshops, talks and resources for youth.

    • Grassroots advocacy: L2S chapters work with administrators to make changes to mental health-related policies and practices at their schools.

Why they were chosen

Letters to Strangers is a completely youth-run mental health nonprofit, with over 100 youth-led chapters across 6 continents (go young people!). It’s built on the power of human connection and personalizing mental health through written word. Writing to a stranger removes the fear, stigma and shame that can come with being honest about how we’re feeling. Chao’s vulnerability in sharing her own mental health challenges has helped thousands of youth like her share their own experiences and feel less alone.

  • Last year, 20K+ letters were exchanged, and 150+ free mental health education workshops were delivered.
  • L2S has created several original “youth-for-youth” peer resources, including the Youth Mental Health Guidebook, written entirely by 14-21 year olds and reviewed by medical and industry professionals, and its accompanying teacher guidebook to implement in schools.
  • They center inclusion and empathy in their work. Education resources focus on intersectionality, deep diving into topics of race, ethnicity and mental health.

For more, check out founder Diana Chao talking about the organization.

PennyLoafer LearningLearning

📅 Since 1949, May has been designated Mental Health Awareness Month, with the goal of reducing stigma and increasing awareness about mental health, so people feel more comfortable reaching out for help and receiving treatment.

🗞️ It comes at an important time, as it feels like everyday there is another article about the youth mental health crisis, exacerbated by the last 2 pandemic years. Consider:

  • 50% of lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
  • In 2020, there was a 30% increase in emergency room visits for mental health reasons for youth ages 12-17, and 24% increase for youth ages 5-11.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10 to 34.

🤗 A recent CDC study highlighted the importance of genuine human connection. Teens who feel connected to others at school have better mental health outcomes. Programs like Letters to Strangers help foster that connection and care between young people.

✍️ If you want to see L2S in action, submit your own letter to a stranger! Or make a friend’s week and send a letter to them out of the blue. Nothing quite like receiving snail mail.

If you enjoyed this and want to get involved, you can support the Mental Health cause on PennyLoafer, starting with as little as $5/month. Each month, you’ll support and learn about a different nonprofit working to make the world a healthier place.