-- A 22-year-old man from Maryland and New York City began playing a popular online word game as a hobby, never imagining it would lead to his traveling over 1,000 miles and across differences in race, class and age to meet an 81-year-old woman he befriended through the game.
The young man, Spencer Sleyon, and his friend, Rosalind Guttman of Palm Beach, Florida, met online through the popular Words With Friends game this past summer, and during more than 300 games they developed a friendship.
“We started chatting through the app and she became a good friend, someone I could confide in,” Sleyon told ABC News.
He began playing while living in Silver Springs, Maryland. When he moved to New York City a few months ago, he deactivated the app and couldn’t communicate with Guttman anymore. But a chance interaction brought her back into his life.
Sleyon was friends with the daughter of Pastor Amy Butler of Riverside Church in New York, who one day heard about his friendship with Guttman and immediately wanted to find a way for them to meet in person.
“This was a phenomenal story, especially in this very scary time where we are being manipulated by fear and divided, that two people would forge a friendship like this,” Butler said. She contacted Guttman and flew out with Spencer to Palm Beach, Florida, to meet her.
From the moment Sleyon and Guttman met on Friday, Dec. 1, it was nothing but smiles, laughter and lots of hugs.
“It was really cool meeting her," he said. "She is lovely and has a great personality.”
Guttman treated him to lunch at a waterfront restaurant in Palm Beach.
“It was natural to talk to her, we talked about the game, our families, and politics,” Sleyon said.
Words With Friends is a product of Zynga, and according to a company spokeswoman, many friendships are forged through the game.
“We hear hundreds of stories every year from our players of connections they've formed in our games, from meeting their spouse to reconnecting with family members. Spencer and Roz are a great example of the game’s evolution,” said Zynga spokeswoman Erin Smith.
Sleyon posted on Twitter about his meeting his online friend and has since received than a million likes and thousands of responses, including from people sharing similar stories.
“I’m glad it could bring a good emotion to many. I’m thankful to be spreading positivity,” he said.
Pastor Butler said she has used Sleyon and Guttman's friendship in a sermon and hopes others will see it as a powerful example of reaching across race and class lines to people who are different.