by John Athanason
Every year, Florida State Parks celebrate National Literacy Month, an important subject in this day and age of smartphones, tablets, and emails. In 2012, the agency asked each park to come up with an idea to promote the importance of reading and writing. Weeki Wachee aspired to do something unique to our park. Of course, the mermaids have been the iconic symbol for the past 70 years, and we wanted to include them. Assistant Park Manager, Robyn Anderson, and I brainstormed about what we could do with the mermaids, and that was how “Tail Mail” was created.
Reflecting on my own childhood, I remembered writing to every NFL player, and asking for autographed pictures. I excitedly composed over 100 letters, and eagerly waited for a response. Unfortunately, each day brought disappointment. As days turned into weeks, I came to the disappointing conclusion that I may never obtain a response.
Then, after several months, I received not one, but two, much anticipated letters. Joe Montana and Earl Campbell sent personalized autographed photos. A feeling of exhilaration overwhelmed me. A feeling I vividly recall today. I was a fan for life!
This was the “A-HA” moment! We began to devise ways we could provide kids with the same feeling. After much discussion, we decided we should ask kids to hand write letters to their favorite mermaid. This would encourage penmanship, as well as writing skills, thus promoting literacy in a fun way. Robyn thought the perfect name would be “Tail Mail.”
To add to the magic, instead of the mermaids simply writing back, we thought autographed pictures would be more enchanting. In addition, we also believed we could video the mermaids reading their fan letters and posting it on our social media platforms for fans to see. This was the beginning of a very successful “Tail Mail” Literacy program that has lasted for 5 years and expanded to every state in our great nation, as well as other countries overseas.
Feedback we have received from parents have been both heartwarming and rewarding. Sometimes, they will post images on our social media pages of their child holding their photo, telling us how excited their child was to hear from one of the World Famous Weeki Wachee Mermaids.
It was then I knew that a vision Robyn and I helped to create, will give our park fans for life.
Author: John Athanason, Marketing & PR Director
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
For almost 16 years, John has managed the marketing department, overseeing community and customer relations. As the park’s media contact he directs publicity, advertising and extensive social media engagement.
Pictured: Weeki Wachee Springs State Park Assistant Manager, Robyn Anderson, John Athanason and Mermaid Kelley.