Intergenerational Pen Pals to Share Stories on June 27

The campus community is invited to hear a dramatic reading of letters between pen pals -- critically ill adults and healthy teenagers -- on Monday, June 27. The program will begin at 7 p.m. following a 6:30 p.m. reception in the Golden Gate Room at Millberry Union, 500 Parnassus Ave. Admission is free. "This is a wonderful way for people to understand what it's like for our patients coping with illness and to hear what it's like in their own words," said Cindy Perlis, who created the pen pal program called the Firefly Project in 1992. The Firefly Project brings together adult correspondents who are all coping with life-threatening illnesses, including AIDS and cancer, and their teen-aged pen pals who exchange hand-written letters along with art work during the entire school year. The pen pals do not meet until 10 days before the first dramatic reading is staged. Perlis, who organizes the project during the school year, adapted the material for presentation on stage this year in collaboration with script consultant Pat McClelland. The reading was initially performed June 1 in Marin. The 46 students in the project are from middle and high schools, including Brandeis is Hillel Day School, the Branson School, Marin Academy, and Sir Francis Drake High School in Marin County; and from the Urban School in San Francisco. Crystal Springs School in Hillsborough is participating for the first time this year. "The patients derive enormous strength and support from the open, heartfelt words of their teen-aged pen pals," Perlis said. "This year one patient became too ill to respond when his brain tumor worsened. I had to tell his pen pals -- but they insisted on writing anyway." A 13-year old student sent the following note to the man with worsening brain cancer: "I am sorry to hear about your great misfortune. I hear that you may not be able to write back, but I want to continue writing to you because no one else who is writing to students loves music and surfing as much as you do. We share the same interests, and I can't part with that. I hope that you feel better, my new friend.... My birthday wish is that you get better and that you can write to me in the future." Perlis is director of Art for Recovery, based at the UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion, which was founded in 1988 to provide patients an opportunity to express their feelings and experiences through art and writing workshops, music experiences, and community involvement. The Firefly Project is funded by the Lloyd Symington Foundation, the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center and The Auxiliary at UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion. The June 27 presentation is sponsored by the Integrative Medicine Network, a student organization at the UCSF School of Medicine. More information regarding the Firefly Project or other Art for Recovery projects is available at 415/885-7221 and online at http://cc.ucsf.edu/afr. Source: Sandra Burnett