Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Children reach out to community

By Anna Guido
Enquirer Contributor

        ANDERSON TOWNSHIP — Sally Derby recalls her surprise when she went to her mailbox recently expecting nothing more than the usual collection of bills. “There was this colorful postcard with a red-white-and-blue rocket,” said the Finneytown resident and author of children's literature.

        On it was the message: “Here is a rocket ship to take your dreams to the moon.”

        The postcard was “Happy Mail” sent from Anderson Township's Maddux Elementary in the Forest Hills Local School District.

        The school's K-6 students in April sent Happy Mail to 615 randomly selected Greater Cincinnati residents from the Cincinnati Bell phone book, a list that included a widower mourning the death of his wife, a new grandmother and a former Maddux student living in Newport.

        The Happy Mail project was part of an artist-in-residence project designed to teach children “that even small acts can affect others' lives,” said principal Diane Method.

        “It's also a good way to get kids to think outside of themselves and reach out to the community,” Ms. Method said.

        By mid-May, several weeks after the postcards were mailed, Maddux Elementary received 22 responses, each one as unique as the cards and messages students created.

        Kindergartner Alex Stevens, 6, drew a picture of a unicorn on the card she sent to the John Ungru family of Harrison.

        “I sent a unicorn to them, and they sent one back to me,” Alex said. “Unicorns make me happy, and I think they're magical. I thought they could make a wish.”

        Happy Mail is a brainstorm of Carol Ann Newsome of Northside, the Cincinnati artist-in-residence at Maddux. It is an offshoot of Ms. Newsome's “New Leaf” project, a series of painted wood blocks (more than 4,500 in 62 countries) that Ms. Newsome and others began placing in public places in 1996.

        On the underside of each block is the inscription: “You've just turned over a new leaf. You may keep this new leaf and turn it over as often as you wish,” along with Ms. Newsome's name and e-mail address.

        “I'm a firm believer in the importance of art — and through New Leaf, found a way to involve people in art who normally might not involve themselves in art,” Ms. Newsome said.

        Ms. Newsome, who worked for 11 years in group therapy in the drug and alcohol treatment field, said a “good, healthy dose of laughter” also works wonders.

        “Making somebody feel good for a few minutes with Happy Mail is a concept children can really appreciate.”

See the art online

               To view the project online, go to www.foresthills.edu/maddux/artinres.html It will be displayed in the Maddux Elementary School lobby through June 6.


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