Intergenerational pen pals will share stories of growth and change

By Eve Harris

A dramatic reading of letters between critically ill adults and healthy teenagers will be performed on Wednesday, June 1, in San Rafael. The public is invited to witness the “Firefly Project” at 7:00 pm in Hoytt Theater at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center at 200 N. San Pedro Road.

The adult correspondents are all coping with life-threatening illnesses, including AIDS and cancer.  Email is prohibited; hand-written letters are exchanged along with art work during the entire school year.  The pen pals do not meet until 10 days before the dramatic reading is staged.

UCSF Clinical Artist Cindy Perlis, who created the Firefly Project in 1992, facilitates the project during the school year and adapted the material for presentation on stage this year in collaboration with script consultant Pat McClelland. 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 teenaged 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.

More information regarding the Firefly Project or other Art for Recovery projects is available at (415) 885-7221 and online at

NOTE TO MEDIA: To arrange interviews with Firefly Project participants, Project Director Perlis or others associated with this project call Eve Harris, UCSF, (415) 885-7277.