As an education reporter for The Sun's metro staff, Kath Lally had heard of the Magic Me program for a long time without ever getting around to looking into it. Then last summer Magic Me's executive director, Alfred de la Cuesta, asked if she would come by to see the kids in action. Kathy watched as middle-schoolers interacted with nursing home residents and thought there must be a story there: In spite of the fact that the youngsters were sometimes embarrassed dealing with the elderly, there was some real bonding going on.

She decided to follow the whole process -- how the youngsters are recruited, how they're trained, how the program works. "I was impressed," she says, "at how great the Magic Me people were working with the kids, forcing them to deal with reality. Instead of trying to make it easy for them, they force them to confront problems and figure out their own solutions."

The purpose of the nursing home visits, Kathy came to realize, was more for the kids than residents; but, she says, the residents really enjoyed their visitors. And they liked doing something for kids as well as being recipients of kindness. One woman, for instance, always had some tiny gift for her visitor. "You could tell she enjoyed having someone she could give a little treat to," says Kathy.

I asked Kathy if, given the economy, Magic Me was having trouble getting funding. She told me about a study being done through the University of Maryland Baltimore County to see how effective Magic Me has been, which may help the program get the money it needs. Initial results show that it is making a difference in the kids' lives. "The cost," Kathy points out, "is only $250 per year per child. Measure that against the cost of a kid dropping out and going on welfare -- it's not much money at all."

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