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School program uses ink to link seniors, students


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2000

HUDSON -- Madaline Woodman greeted her three young friends with hugs and a hearty hello. Although it was the first time the four of them had ever met, they all knew each other quite well.

Woodman had been corresponding with the three fifth-grade girls since September. Back and forth they wrote of their hobbies, their families and themselves. On Friday, the girls, along with about 22 of their Hudson Elementary School classmates, finally met their senior-citizen pen pals.

"I liked Madaline's letters because they were on tie-died paper," said Sabrina Tipton, 12.

It was the second year that students in Gloria Gozdziewski's homeroom class have corresponded with members of the CARES Hudson Senior Center. The project was the idea of center director Lee Fenton, who said it was important for youngsters to count senior citizens among their friends. Seniors from the center have provided holiday dinners for needy Hudson Elementary families and the center is right around the corner from the school.

"The kids love it and it's an excellent writing assignment," Gozdziewski said. "They've really built up a bond with their pen pals."

The students walked to the center Friday for an afternoon brunch of punch and cookies. The students brought their pen pals Mother's Day cards, small gifts and flowers they had fashioned out of tissue paper, transparent tape and pipe cleaners.

Nick Carmack, 11, discovered that he and his pen pal, Joan Santhouse, 70, both liked to read mysteries. As they munched on cookies, they laughed about the previous night's episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

"I just loved hearing about his interest in sports, and I liked to tell him about my grandchildren," said Santhouse of Port Richey. "I think it's a great program."

Woodman's three pen pals gave her a homemade Mother's Day card, a thank-you note and a yellow, flowered potpourri dish. Nicole Marinella also drew Woodman, 71, a picture of her horse, Sparkles.

"I liked meeting different people that I didn't know," said 11-year-old Nicole. "It was almost like having a secret admirer."

- Staff writer Kent Fischer can be reached at 869-6241 or (800) 333-7505, extension 6241.

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