COLUMBIA — Tables of children received sheets of pre-cut valentines on which to write their own special message. An assortment of cards — Care Bears for the girls and Spiderman and Batman-themed cards for the boys — filled the tables, ready to be personalized by the children and sent to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Every child had their own message. "I am going to write a poem about how they risk their lives and get us freedom by fighting," Alexze Hansen, 10, said.
Others kept it short and sweet, with a simple "Good luck to the army." El’Saun Hutchinson, 7, said he chose his message "because they do all that hard work for us and fight."
About 35 children from Moving Ahead, an after-school program sponsored by the Columbia Housing Authority, gathered in the J.W. “Blind” Boone Community Center on Monday for a special Valentine's project.
"We are always working on different projects here," said Moving Ahead Program Coordinator Carroll ZuBolton, 54. "Some of the kids here have family members in Iraq, so they see the importance of the project already. We are going to talk about the soldiers tomorrow a little more so everyone can have a good understanding."
"It seems to me that the troops aren't being recognized enough over there," said Annie Jackson, 70, a Columbia resident and volunteer. She explained how important it is for the children to know what is going on overseas, and for the soldiers to feel the love and support from the children in the U.S. "I want the children to be proud of what they are doing, too," Jackson said.
ZuBolton and Jackson plan on grouping the cards into two big boxes filled with candy, along with a group picture of the kids for the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to share. They asked parents of the children to donate the candy that would be included in the packages.
While some children wrote the same message on many cards, Lakia Ellis, 8, chose to write a variety of expressions, including "Be safe," "I hope you come home," and "Have fun."
After each child wrote their own personal message, ZuBolton instructed the rowdy children to line up for the group picture that would be later included with the valentines. Jackson sat in the middle of the group as the children smiled for the camera.
"I don't think there is enough love in the world for kids," Jackson said, adding that this is the main reason she stays involved and helps out when she can.