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Up close and personal

As a long-time opera fan, I just love the simulcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. To see the singer/actors' facial expressions — for example, Suzuki's sympathy when she knows Madame Butterfly has been taken advantage of by the U.S. Naval officer, Lt. Pinkerton — is more than worth the admission price.

During the intermissions, while the regular New York audience at the Metropolitan Opera House can talk to their seatmates or walk to the lobby, we at the simulcasts, which are broadcast live at various theaters, watch up close and personal interviews with the stars as well as with the set designers, musicians and others involved in the production.

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Up close and personal can last a lifetime. Thus, I still remember meeting Liv Ullman backstage after a performance of Eugene O'Neill's play, "Anna Christie." When introduced to me by her co-star John Lithgow (originally from my hometown in New Jersey), she took both my hands in hers. What a warm gesture.

Way back when I was in junior high school, as class secretary, I planned a trip to the Lincoln/Mercury plant in Metuchen, N.J. Closely watching how cars were put together on an assembly line was as interesting to the girls as it was to the boys. And even though today, when most of the inner workings of automobiles are based on technology, the bodies of cars are basically made the same way. I never forgot that experience.

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One of the best opportunities for up close and personal experiences is offered through The Fresh-Air Fund, which gives low-income inner city kids a chance to experience country life. Founded in 1877, it operates five camps in upstate New York. At these camps, the children learn about nature and farm animals, up close, while living in a totally different environment from their homes. The camps also have educational programs and teach career skills. In fact, the New York City Housing Authority even sponsors day trips to these camps, especially for children living in housing projects. Many children stay with volunteer host families in the country for a month during the summer. And many return to their same host family year after year so they really get to know each other.

There is much to be said for up close and personal.

Not long ago, I was listening on WYPR to an interview with Lucky Crosby, a long-time community organizer in Sandtown. Many years ago, Mr. Crosby used to work on the grounds where I live in Baltimore County. For Christmas, I would give him books for his young son. So when I heard his name, my ears perked up. What he said was that Gov. Larry Hogan and his staff appropriated funds for so-called projects for Sandtown without ever consulting the community members, especially people like Lucky, who were long-time residents and really knew what their needs were.

On the other hand, the OrchKids and their parents, guardians and siblings interact closely not only with Dan Trahey, their director, and his staff, but also with BSO conductor Marin Alsop and with the members of the orchestra. Providing the OrchKids not only with music lessons but also with meals and tutoring allows the mentors and the kids a chance to know each other well.

Likewise, the most important mission projects in religious organizations, for example, are those where members are involved directly with the beneficiaries of their funds. As nice as it is to think that money going to Haiti, to Guatemala and to a host of other far-away countries goes directly to the neediest children, without being able to be there to track it — to get up close and personal — the money often falls into greedy hands.

Whether getting to know people up close in their own environments or having other up-close experiences, people learn empathy and gain knowledge. As a result, they can better adjust to and contribute to society. And who can argue with that?

Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Odyssey Program of Johns Hopkins, is president of BWB-Business Writing At Its Best Inc. and author of "The Feminine Irony" and "Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing." Her email is lynneagress@aol.com.

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