Handmade gifts make Christmas 'more Christmassy' for Villa Maria children


Joshua said it best.

"You must have great skills to make these. You've made my Christmas more Christmassy," said the 9-year-old student at Villa Maria, a private elementary school in Baltimore County for children with emotional problems.

Joshua was expressing his gratitude to a small group of Towson High School teen-agers -- most of them special education students themselves -- who recently presented beautifully handcrafted toys they had made to the younger children.

The students gave a total of 40 trucks, baby strollers and cradles -- all made by six students in Towson's wood-shop class. They began making the toys in mid-October, said their teacher, Howard Spears, who came up with the idea.

"I had heard something like this had been done years ago in Baltimore County," Mr. Spears said. Although he had been thinking of doing it for some years, he decided this was the year he would undertake the project in wood shop.

Later, he mentioned to secretaries at Towson High how nice it would be to have a few dolls to go along with the baby strollers.

"It kind of snowballed from there," he said.

The secretaries pitched in, got the teachers and administrators involved, and soon the trucks had little toy cars inside them. And each baby stroller and cradle had a doll with a blanket inside.

Andrew H. Dotterweich Jr., principal at Towson High, agreed to donate $500 in school funds for things such as wheels and spindles.

On the Friday before Christmas, Mr. Spears loaded up a van with the toys and got four of the boys to hand them out to Villa Maria children.

Asked how it felt to play Santa Claus for the day, the teen-agers were not too forthcoming.

"It feels all right," said Jason Dauses, a 15-year-old sophomore. Prodded further, he added, "It gives you a warm feeling inside."

"It's all right," agreed Quentin Brown, an 18-year-old senior. "I like giving," he added.

But watching how the Towson students treated their work was more revealing.

While the group was unloading the toys and bringing them into the school, one student lightly bumped a cradle into a door.

"Hey! Watch that cradle now!" Quentin was quick to call out.

The Villa Maria children chosen to receive the gifts were the day-school students, said John M. Pumphrey, director of education. The school, for children ages 5 to 11, has day students and others who live at the treatment center.

The children in residence are the ones who receive most of the gifts during the holidays, Mr. Pumphrey said.

Some of the children appeared overwhelmed by their gifts.

"It's good! I can't believe they made this," said Jay, 10, looking at his truck.

Kelli, 7, took one look at her stroller with the baby doll inside and burst into a wide smile.

"Thanks guys," she said. "And merry Christmas."

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