Letteracy Deck Exceeds Expectations: Engaging the Community and Expanding Minds, by Sammie GarrityJul 24, 2023 08:34AM ● By Content Editor
By Sammie Garrity for Boreal Community Media - July 24, 2023
“A three-generation destination.” “A place of meaning.” Grand Marais is a place where families gather to reunite, travel, and to spend time together. However, when you compile all of these different personalities and people, finding something to do that everyone enjoys can prove difficult. Not everyone can kayak, hike, or bike. Everyone, however, wants to be there for the lake. They want to sit, they want to skip rocks, they just want to be. That is why Anne Brataas created Letteracy Deck on the shore of Lake Superior.
“It was just to give people a way to be with the lake for free and explore their family's stories, personal stories, and really encourage multigenerational activity,” said Brataas.
This activity has caught the attention of the community. Besides engaging with the local press heavily, Letteracy Deck has been an extremely popular activity for tourists and for locals alike. After receiving a grant from the Blandin Foundation, Brataas’ goal was to meet a quota of 1,400 letters by the end of the summer. By mid-July she surpassed that goal. She is now expecting to mail 4,000 cards by early September.
There are a significant number of community members engaged in the program outside of just letter writing, as well. Ray at the post office is the go-to gal for all questions regarding stamps or envelopes. Odd dimensions, incorrect postage, or questionable cards have been coined “postal puzzlers” that Anne and Ray work to figure out. Ray also spreads the word about Letteracy Deck, giving the program a platform to succeed.
The Hub, a local gathering place for community members, has also taken to creating stock for Letteracy Deck. They make cards and then Anne purchases them. They create a wide variety for any event you may need a card for. Many community members also drop off bags of cards and postcards that they no longer need. This generosity is what adds to the peculiarity of the options to choose from. With these donations, the Letteracy deck would never have had Graceland postcards and World War II postcards in the same box. This wide range of materials is what often initially draws people in. Local generosity spurs the creativity of participants.
“We’re getting a really good variety and I guess that is a measure of our impact—people want to donate them. So, it’s become kind of a recycling center, which I didn’t expect” recalled Brataas.
Letteracy Deck has not only had a quantitative impact, but a qualitative one. As do many things in a small town like Grand Marais, news of this activity spread quickly. Brataas recalled a story of a woman being in the post office and being told about Letteracy Deck. This same woman came down to the lake and told Anne that when she heard about it, she was moved to tears.
“Being there is really sort of a high because people are in a good mood and reaching out with all sorts of messages” said Brataas.
There is also an aspect of engagement incorporated into Letteracy Deck. Brataas operates Minnesota Children’s Press (MCP)—a non-profit aimed at working with children on research, reading, and writing. In the summer, MCP partners with the local YMCA and operates a program called Story Scouts. Twice a week, Story Scouts come down to the deck and write letters and learn about lake stewardship. They learn about the lake from the lake.
“Often Lake Superior or people who interact with Lake Superior just need to hear from children caring about it,” said Brataas.
Letteracy Deck has touched many lives and has served its purpose; creating a place for people to gather and connect with each other and the outdoors. It has allowed the art of letter writing to gain traction and even return. A pen to paper is a dying art, but one that enriches lives and spreads joy. Though the future of Letteracy Deck is unknown, Brataas hopes to see it continue for summers to come.
“I want kids to see a landscape full of thinking people instead of just all of us on our screens every minute of the day,” said Brataas.
The project runs through Sept. 11 and is open every day but Thursday, 10-4 p.m., at the south end of the Lake Superior Trading Post in Grand Marais.