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Levittown fifth-graders write letters to breast cancer survivors

Rich Schwartz’s fifth-grade class at Abbey Lane Elementary School in Levittown penned handwritten, personal letters to people affected by breast cancer. Four students read from their letters.   (Credit: Newsday / Beth Whitehouse)

When Kelsey Defreitas, 10, was asked by her Levittown fifth-grade teacher to write to a breast cancer survivor, she penned a chatty missive. “I heard you enjoy getting your nails done,” she wrote. “Well, I do, too. It’s so relaxing.”

Defreitas and her 20 classmates in Rich Schwartz’s class at Abbey Lane Elementary School exercised their communication skills by handwriting letters to specific people who have been affected by the disease. Tuesday, the class will welcome about 20 of the recipients to their classroom to share pink bagels.

“I want the kids to see the smiles they helped create,” Schwartz says. The project was inspired by October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, he says.

While "The Schwartzville Project" started out with letters to about 10 friends and family members who submitted information about themselves, it has mushroomed to reach close to 100 people, Schwartz says. Schools in Hawaii and Washington state have also inquired about adopting it, he says. “I really didn’t expect it to be this big at all,” Schwartz says. “Now we’re starting to get letters back.”

One of the people who responded is school assistant principal Milton Josephs. “My stepmom passed a short six months ago, so it is still relatively new for me and my family and when someone like you and your classmates reach out, it is very special,” he wrote.

Mia Bardolf, 10, says she learned from the project that breast cancer patients may lose their hair if they have chemotherapy. “It’s upsetting that you’re losing your hair,” she says. In her letter, she wrote, “You are an amazing person. … Your strength was a good thing to show your kids. I heard you make tomato sauce. It’s probably the best. What’s your recipe?”

Letter writer Timothy Stanley, 10, says he learned that major league baseball teams sometimes will use bats that are pink, the signature color of the breast cancer support movement, and then sell them to raise money for research. “You are extremely brave and courageous. I hope you know that you are a role model for others fighting this disease,” Timmy wrote.

Classmate Carlos Contreras, 10, expressed his hope for the future in his letter: “My wish is that doctors soon find a cure for breast cancer so if you are ever diagnosed with breast cancer again, you will already know there’s a cure for it.”

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