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By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published December 9, 2007
Tina Perry lost her daughter in a car wreck more than 20 years ago.
But Didi remains in her mother's heart and mind. She keeps copies of Didi's songs, poetry and prose. Didi's face smiles from picture frames throughout Perry's Port Richey home.
A few years ago, when Perry visited first- and second-graders at Shady Hills Elementary, she noticed two computers sitting in the corner of the room. It made her think of the typing lessons she gave her daughter all those years ago.
Perry, now 86, never went to college but once ran a typing and transcription business on Long Island. She taught her 7-year-old daughter to type on a manual typewriter using color coding on her fingernails and the keys. She offered to do the same thing for the 5- and 6-year-olds in the Shady Hills classroom.
Perry went home, dusted off her notes from Didi's sessions and came up with a program adapted to the computer keyboard.
As it turned out, nothing ever came of her offer. But Perry remained excited about the idea. She spent the next 18 months and thousands of dollars developing what she calls Kidz N Keyboardz, a kit designed to teach children from age 5 to type on the computer and read better.
A black and white picture of Perry and her daughter decorates the box for each kit: "Dedicated to the memory of my daughter Didi."
Since she launched her nonprofit venture two years ago, Perry and her associate, Peter LoCascio, have managed to get Kidz N Keyboardz kits into classrooms in Long Island, Jamaica and Brooksville. She wants to get them in as many classrooms as possible.
Perry was recently recognized for her work with children by the Trendsetters, a New York group that honors women. The Anthony Robbins Foundation, formed by the nationally known motivational speaker, awarded Perry's Kidz N Keyboardz Inc. $35,000 to place her kits in struggling New Orleans schools.
"All she wants to do is see kids succeed," said Sheryl Scrivens Title I coordinator at Brooksville Elementary, where 24 free Kidz N Keyboardz kits, plus free computers, were used in a pilot program for kindergarteners last year.
This is her daughter's legacy.
Didi was an only child, a teacher who loved to see children learn. Now her mother finds purpose every day in trying to help other children.
"Every mother's child is my child," said Perry, echoing some of the old world values passed down by her Depression-era first- and second-generation Italian immigrant parents in East Harlem, N.Y. Her family was poor enough to collect government surplus food, but she never let circumstance derail her ambition. After an employment agency balked at hiring Jews, Italians and blacks, Concetta Perangelo became Tina Perry and stayed that way even after she married Tony Leonowich.
She's widowed now. A bad leg slows her down. But her dedication to Didi and the children drives her on.
"My heart," she said, "is all for children."
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.
For more information, visit www.kidznkeyboardz.org.
[Last modified December 8, 2007, 20:12:09]