Firefly project features live reading of letters from patients and their teenage pen pals on June

By Vanessa deGier

Members of the public are invited to attend a live dramatic reading of letters written by adults coping with life-threatening illnesses and their healthy teenage pen pals at the annual Firefly Project Adaptation on Wednesday, June 4.

The event, with works read by the actual pen pals, takes place at the Hoytt Theater, Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, 200 N. San Pedro Road in San Rafael. It will begin at 7 p.m., and admission is free.

The Firefly Project brings together adult patients coping with life-threatening illnesses, such as AIDS and cancer, with healthy teenagers living in the Bay Area. The pen pals correspond with one another throughout the school year, not meeting until year end.

The results are dramatic, emotionally charged letters as adults tell stories of their struggles, hopes and fears while students learn what it feels like to cope with a serious illness, according to UCSF Clinical Artist and Art for Recovery Director Cynthia Perlis, who created the project in 1992. Bridges are built and friendships are created as students open up about their own lives and feelings about their future, she adds.

Participants will include adults who are being treated at UCSF Medical Center and their pen pals who attend Marin County and San Francisco middle and high schools. Thirty-four teenagers participated in the program. Patient participants live throughout the Bay Area and beyond.

The Firefly Project is part of Art for Recovery, a program of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. Since 1992, thousands of letters have been exchanged between teenagers and adult patients. These letters reveal the deep and complex meanings of illness and loss, Perlis notes. The dramatic reading on June 4 validates the central meaning of what they have shared, first with each other, then publicly; illness, loss and death are demystified and dignified and healing is made possible through the telling of stories, she says.

For more information, call (415) 885-7221 or visit