After the party, Margaret Accardy, 85, held the hand-made Christmas card from a young admirer up to the light once more and fingered the pipe-cleaner Christmas tree woven into the construction paper.
"I think it's lovely, myself," she said. "Look how he made it! I shall always keep this."
About a dozen Prince George's County senior citizens held a joint Christmas party last week with a special group of friends, a class of sixth graders from the school next door to their club. The older citizens spend their days at the University Fellowship Club, a day-care center for impaired seniors sponsored by the University Baptist Church in College Park.
Every Wednesday for six weeks last October and Novermber the 11-year-olds from Saint Mark's school played musical charades, sang old songs and danced with the older persons, some of whom have physical and mental impairments that would keep them in nursing homes if they did not have the day-care center. The visits were part of a study of how close associations of children and older persons affects the well-being and attitudes of both groups. The study was conducted by University of Maryland graduate student Michael Leitner.
Last Monday the youngsters returned to sing songs of the season with their elders, exchange cards and gifts, and learn about Christmases long past.
"We learned about where they got their christmas tree, what they decorated it with and what presents they got when they were little," said student Greg Solarz.
A slim, septuagenarian Santa in a red plastic suit called the kids by name and gave them bags of goodies, exciting the seniors and their adopted grandchildren.
"He's good as Santa," said Accardy, laughing at the plastic-bag-like costume and applauding the children as their names were called.
After the party the Saint Mark's students bubbled about their experience with the seniors.
"It was kind of nice, like talking to your grandmother," said Renee Glenn, 11. "You didn't even know they weren't your own."
"Them -- they got enjoyment," said Tracy Garner.
"And we got to know old people better," added Kim Watson.
"You learn that old people can be kids, too," said Glenn, remembering her favorite older friend, Helen Schwartz, a severely confused 83-year-old. Though most adults would finding talking to Schwartz impossible, the girls found that with music and games they could get through fine.
"Out of the clear blue sky she'd start clapping and dancing," said Garner, wide-eyed.
"She was not afraid to be herself," added Glenn.
Mary Palmer, 88, said that a visit from the sixth graders was like a visit from family.
"They are our regular children now," said the Brentwood resident, who has taken the club bus to the center for the last three years. "You know how it is, older people have their limitations. The children are a great comfort," she added.
She was not sure what the young visitors got out of the exchange, but felt that just spending time with old people did them some good.
"They can see how older people are cared for. That means a lot to those who can understand that they will be old themselves," said Palmer. "They're not getting any younger."