ECN Care package letters led to in-person meetings

February 23, 2024Joyce Gill ’26 says she honestly had no intent of picking up a care package last year because of initial confusion over an abbreviation.

Joyce Gill ’26
   Joyce Gill ’26

While the Everyday Class Notes Facebook page and care package project has made the abbreviation ECN well known among alums, Gill initially assumed ECN was short for economics.  

“I thought it was meant for economics majors, so I thought I was maybe overstepping my boundaries if I got a care package,” she says. “But then I saw my friends with a whole bunch of snacks, so naturally I asked where they got them because I knew they weren’t economics majors. They told me it was for everyone.”

A month later Gill was having brunch in Nashville with Cameo Carlson ’93 whose package she selected. Gill, a computer science major who grew up in South Korea, was already planning a trip to Nashville for spring break, which is where Carlson lives.  

“I’m introverted so I don’t normally reach out to people,” Gill says. “But this was too big of a coincidence to ignore. I was so nervous to meet her. But she was genuine and friendly. She wanted to get to know me and hear more about how Grinnell has evolved since she was a student. She told me how Grinnell shaped her morals and values, which is something I was really curious about.”

Gill and Carlson’s meeting was one example of the numerous connections made between care package senders and receivers over the last decade.

Cameo Carlson ’93 and Bernard Jackson ’86
Cameo Carlson ’93, pictured here with Bernard Jackson ’86 after receiving an Alumni Award at Reunion 2023, has connected with several students who have received her care packages over the last decade.

Now in its 10th year, alumni shipped a total of 1,360 care packages to campus in February. The packages were distributed to students Tuesday and Wednesday in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center (JRC). Each student could select any care package they wanted, which were displayed on several long tables. Alumni and staff volunteers added new packages to refresh the offerings throughout the two days. On the first day alone, 756 students came in to select a care package.

The idea for care packages started with a 2014 Facebook discussion in the alum group Everyday Class Notes. Alums were reminiscing about the old Carnegie Hall mailroom where some of them received notes or small gifts from prior mailbox owners then paid it forward by sending something to the new mailbox owner after they graduated.

Many of the ECN care packages include letters or notes from alums. A participant all 10 years, Carlson – CEO of mtheory, a manager services company providing global marketing and strategic support for artist managers – always writes a letter to students and includes all the ways to contact her: social media handles, email, address, and phone number. Over the years she has been contacted on each of those channels several times.

Hyunmin Kim ’20, an investment research analyst at Morningstar in Chicago, contacted Carlson in 2020 after opening her care package.  

Students carefully examine care packages before making a selection as the line stretches out the door.
Students carefully examine care packages before making a selection as the line stretches out the door.

“I don’t really remember why I picked Cameo’s package other than I think hers was relatively colorful,” Kim says. “But receiving Cameo’s package was really special because a few semesters prior I had listened to her Wilson Center lecture. I remember being really inspired and taking a lot of notes on my laptop. Cameo’s name stuck with me, so when I opened the package and saw a note from her, I was like, oh my gosh, what a coincidence. That’s why I replied to her, telling her ‘I remember being really inspired by you. I’m so glad I got your package.’” 

As luck would have it, Carlson was going to be in Grinnell for an Alumni Council meeting a couple weeks later. She and Kim ended up having coffee at Saints Rest.

“We had a really nice one-on-one conversation about her journey,” Kim says. “That was when I was at a point in my life when I was a little uncertain, so she was giving me a lot of good advice on how to leverage my skillset. I was studying music as my second major at that time [along with math], so she was telling me a bit about the music industry. As someone who is more quantitative oriented, she explained how I could contribute to the arts industry.”

Carlson has contributed to the development of the music industry from its digital inception and helped further numerous music careers. Kim and Gill were excited to learn she worked with two of their favorite singers, Kacey Musgraves and Sabrina Carpenter. 

Carlson says she had so much fun meeting the students.  

A student pens a thank you postcard
A student pens a thank you postcard for an alum after reading the letter that was included with the care package.

“It takes the ‘thank you’ to another level to be able to talk to them about their time at Grinnell, their (and my) experience on campus, and connecting over something silly in my package or in my note,” she says. “Most of the time I will say it’s my advice that ‘you are not your major’ that resonates. I was a first-gen college student who majored in political science and then became an executive and entrepreneur in the music business.”

The 10 years of sending care package not only has led to connections with students, but it’s also brought alums closer together. 

“For the alums, it’s a way to stay connected and to connect with each other,” Carlson says. “The Facebook community around this is as much about sharing the info and letters with each other as it is about the students. We compare goodies, letters, talk about our varying abilities and time to participate. It’s a really wonderful and unique experience.”

Scott and Laura Cleveland Shepherd, both class of 1982 share a laugh and conversation with students picking up care packages.
Scott and Laura Cleveland Shepherd, both class of 1982, share a laugh and conversation with students picking up care packages in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center.

Kim and Gill both say the care packages – and the notes of encouragement that come with it – is something students are thankful for each year. 

“I love it because Grinnellians want to connect with each other but sometimes reaching out through social media can feel a little superficial,” Gill says. “I feel the care packages are one of the most genuine ways for Grinnellians to connect with each other. These alums were where we are now. They know what we need and want. Every single gift is personal and genuine. You see all these students with goodie bags reading the letters alums wrote them, and it makes their day.”

— by  Jeremy Shapiro

For your information

Alumni interested in sending care packages next year can join the Facebook group dedicated to the project. The Facebook site also has numerous photos and discussions about this year’s packages.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive and like the Alumni & Friends Facebook page.