Heartfelt messages to hospitalized veterans are darting across the country from North Carroll Middle School.

As soon as Cyndi J. Dukesand Lisa M. Berlin mentioned columnist Ann Landers' Valentines for Veterans project to their language arts class, the seventh-graders went to work with scissors, markers and stencils.

The 17 students voluntarily became involved in the community service project, enjoying the opportunity to do something for somebody else, said Berlin.

The "class artists" shared their talents with those who couldn't draw as well. The teachers offered a poetic touch foranyone stuck on a rhyme scheme.

"We added the extra hands, but the thoughts came from their hearts," said Dukes. "The creativity flowed, and students didn't need a lot of help."

The children decoratedtheir homemade valentines with get-well messages, little stories andthank-yous.

Michael Hunter, 12, and Ricky Blizzard, 13, worked together on the project, writing "Thanks for serving in the war," across bright-red hearts. Michael has an uncle in the Army.

"If my relative was in a hospital somewhere, I hope a lot of people would write to him," he said.

Some students used cartoon characters to convey messages.

"I drew a Ninja Turtle to let the veterans know what's popular now," said Ralph Vaughn, 12. "I also included a Bible verse and said I was praying for them."

Wendy Davis, 12, drew Garfield andwrote, "Happy Valentine from me to you."

Robbie Orem, 12, needed an extra-large envelope for his "Heartman," which he made by pasting two large hearts together and adding arms and legs.

Zack Ward, 13,outlined a red heart with black and drew an airplane in the center. He said he hoped his "better, cooler colors" would brighten a vet's lonely day.

Dukes mailed the cards to Edward Hines Jr. at Veterans Affairs Hospital, for distribution to 172 VA hospitals across the country. Many children hope this will be the start of a pen-pal correspondence.

"I told my veteran about my favorite things, like soccer, and asked him to write back," said Eric Powers, 13. "Even if I don't hear anything, I am going to write again."

Pam Surges, assistant for consumer affairs at the Hines, Ill., hospital near Chicago, said last year her staff processed nearly 5 million cards.

So far this year, with many valentine messages going to the Persian Gulf instead, Hines has received about 1 million cards. She said that the children's efforts are much appreciated.

"We put a valentine on every breakfast tray here to brighten our patients' day," she said. "Many decorate their rooms with the cards."

Several students said they were concerned that patients at the VA hospitals might be forgotten during the Persian Gulf war. These cards show "we know you are there and we care," said Jenny Leppo, 14.

"These people might not have a family who visits often," said Nick Scholtes, 12. "We want them to have lotsof cards to read."

Mike Green, 12, sketched a wounded soldier on his card to show "what can happen in war." He added hearts to show friendship, he said.

The children are aware of what military servicemeans, teachers said. Names of former students, friends and relatives who are stationed in the gulf region are written on a large poster,displayed in the school lobby.

Anne Day, a teacher whose son Andrew has been in the region for six months, called the valentines a great idea.

"Some of those veterans have been in the hospital for so long, they feel forgotten," she said. "Valentines are just what they need."

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