In the front yard of 7-year-old Amanda Melefsky's Forest Hill home is an evergreen tree spangled with white paper stars.

Each star carries the name of an American soldier stationed in the Persian Gulf.


If you ask Amanda, she'll tell you the stars represent a "prayer from heaven" for each soldier.

Since last fall, Amanda and her friends in the Harford Estates neighborhood have been doing their part in the war effort in the Middle East.


Amanda and 14 other neighborhood children, who ride the same bus to school each day, formed a group called the Busstop Kids to support the troops.

"We thought we should do it for our soldiers because we ought to support them," said Amanda, a second-grader at Hickory Elementary School.

The kids started a program called Stars for Service People to honor troops servingin the Persian Gulf war.

Each afternoon, the kids meet at headquarters -- the Melefsky's family room -- fielding calls on their hot line. The group accepts calls at 879-7535 between 4 and 5 weekdays.

Calls come from friends and relatives of troops. They want to includethem in the group's memorial. The kids take the names, ranks and stations of the soldiers, write the information on a paper star and hangthe star on the tree.

So far, Busstop Kids has gotten calls from across Maryland, from Ocean City to Finksburg, Annapolis to Owings Mills.

The tree, in the 1600 block of Honeysuckle Drive, has 142 stars so far.

Once the star is placed on the tree, the group sends the service person a letter to tell them a star has been hung in his orher honor.


"We feel that they need some support," said Hickory fifth-grader Stephen Mitrega of the members of the armed forces. "They're away from home. Their parents feel sad because they're gone, and we want to comfort them."

Busstop Kids formed last fall initially as a way for the neighborhood children to get to know each other, saidSusan Melefsky, Amanda's mother.

The youngsters started with a Halloween party, but their interest turned to the Persian Gulf crisis, she said. The group then organized a live nativity scene at Christmasto honor the troops.

Stars for Service People started when the children got the idea to decorate Melefsky's tree at Christmas with stars with the names of soldiers written on them, she says.

"(The children) do it unconditionally," Melefsky says. "They do it from their heart."

The youngsters say they want to continue the program untilthe war is over. And when the troops return home, they plan to send the stars to each service member.


Their concern over the war has created a sense of camaraderie among the children, Melefsky said.

The children, who range in age from 4 to 11, often play together and help each other with schoolwork when not working the hot line, she said.

The program also proved to be educational, said Melefsky, a Baltimore County schoolteacher. For example, the children keep handy maps of Maryland and the Persian Gulf, as well as a globe.

They also wrote a song to honor the soldiers, which they performed at a recent meeting of Desert Comfort, a county support group for friends and relatives of soldiers serving in the gulf.

Even though none of the children has a close relative who has been sent to the Persian Gulf, they say the project has helped them come to terms with their fears of war.

"My dad might go over," said Hickory third-grader and BusstopKids member Scott Howman. "He's in the National Guard. He and my mom, they're worried. But they like what we're doing."


Jennifer DePriest, another third-grader, added: "I think (the group) helps all of us. It's nice to know that you have friends you can turn to to let outyour feelings."