Fun(d)-Raising Letters by 4th-Graders

Compiled by Ursula Vils.

The letters, each addressed "Attention: Managing Editor," all begin politely with "Ohayo! O-genki desu ka? That means 'Hello, how are you,' in Japanese."

The letters go on to explain that the writers are fourth-graders in Mrs. Esther Pike's class at Cienega Elementary School in the inner-city, that they are studying Japan, that their dearest wish is to go on a field trip to Little Tokyo--and that they have no money for a bus to take them there.

The children unvaryingly express pride in themselves and their school: "We are the best class in the school. We keep our school neat," writes Marco Flores, among others. They say they have carp and origami cat and dog paper sculptures in their classroom and "we go to the room early to get extra help" from Mrs. Pike.

They share the information that they are black or Mexican-American or Arabic and a few other personal touches: Sheldon Quimina, 10, says, "I broke my leg and came to school in a cast! It was hard." Efrain Villela writes, "I am the president of my class and I like being the president." "I'm a Mexican-American boy," Daniel Garcia says. "My favorite thing is learning a lot."

Each letter concludes respectfully with, "Thank you for reading my letter." Some are signed, "Sincerely" and "Yours truly." Others end with a warm, "Your friend" or "Your new friend."

Teacher Esther Pike explained that sending the letters was one last hope of getting the $500 needed to visit Little Tokyo, traditionally the final event in the unit she teaches on Japan. She said that the excursion usually includes a visit to a Buddhist temple, a tour of Little Tokyo and lunch in a Japanese restaurant.

(One can't help wondering how Myrna Preciado will react to Japanese food. In her letter she writes, "I like to go to McDonalds. I like hamburgers, pizza, ice cream, soda and spaghetti.")

"We take off our shoes, we sit on the floor, we eat with chopsticks and the food falls all over, and the children have to speak in Japanese to ask for what they would like to have," Pike said.

"We usually go the last week of school, which means they work up to the last minute and are not losing any learning time. It means so much to these kids. If I had the money I'd take them myself."

Somehow, this year funds for the project have just dried up, Pike said.

"Mitsui Bank said they'd help us out with $250 if we can come up with the other $250," she added.

Underwriting Arts, Crafts

The Foothill Creative Arts Group celebrated its 25th anniversary Wednesday with a reception and open house--and a look to June 22 and its annual benefit dinner dance to help underwrite its arts and crafts program in the community.

"We just wanted to thank the community for its support, so we had a reception that included demonstrations, a clown, refreshments and a showing of the work we do in our classes," Dottie Reed, publicity chairman for the nonprofit group, said.

The "work we do" includes classes in crafts, painting, pottery, cooking and flower arranging, plus special one- and two-day workshops. Each session runs from six to eight weeks and includes about 15 classes averaging 10 students; participants range from 4 years of age to senior citizens, Reed said.

Classes are offered on a nonprofit basis and "we lose money on them," Reed said. Proceeds of the June 22 dinner dance at the Jacob Maarse home and garden in Sierra Madre will help finance the group's activities.

Founded by six couples--the Bill Stewarts, Bruce Wallaces, Chuck Morses, Jim Hawkinses, Bill Burrs and Harry Snows--the Foothill group grew out of participation in the Arcadia Childrens Theater and a sense of need to foster the arts in the area. The founders became the teachers, staff and planners, and as the group grew they moved into permanent quarters in Sierra Madre.

After a fire in 1974, operations were relocated at 108 N. Baldwin Ave., property purchased by the Creative Arts Group in 1981. The move was made possible by grants from foundations, businesses, arts organizations, 650 individual donors--and three rummage sales. A recent check from the J. W. and Ida M. James Foundation will pay off the remaining debt, Reed said.

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