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Project Joy holiday event brings fun, tips for living

The importance of family was the message Saturday in Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence, where the second phase of this year's Project Joy was held for 1,000 Buffalo children, parents and caregivers.

Sponsored by Women for Human Rights and Dignity, the annual holiday celebration was based this year on the theme "Connecting Families -- Spiritually, Educationally, Physically, Economically and Emotionally."

"This is about the power of community and what it can do to fulfill a sense of promise, possibility, and potentiality for kids and families," said Constance B. Eve, founder and chairwoman of Project Joy.

The first phase of Project Joy was a holiday gathering Dec. 2 in Albion Correctional Facility, a daylong forum of presentations for more than 1,200 incarcerated women on topics such as legal and medical issues.

Saturday's event in the Appenheimer Street school focused on children and families involved in economic, emotional, and social growth.

Youngsters 3 to 5 years old were treated to a magic show, balloon sculptures and Yo Yo the Clown.

"We're just trying to bring a little Christmas and holiday flavor into the lives of these families," said Judith M. Jones, a retired Buffalo Public Schools teacher and administrator who ran the class.

Francesca Elicir, 5, and her 4-year-old brother, Felix, enjoyed themselves. Francesca got two temporary tattoos -- a butterfly and a rose. Felix got a smiling face on a U.S. flag.

Five-year-old Avery Warren picked out a yellow, smiling face tattoo.

"They've been having a lot of fun," said 15-year-old Jazlyn Exum, a Girl Scout volunteer. "We're assisting with the kids, and keeping them settled."

The classes were not just fun and games. Children 6 to 10 years old learned about anger management, conflict resolution and understanding their emotions.

"We have to catch them while they're young. If not, it would be a domino effect the other way," said Richard Blackwell, who has been volunteering with Project Joy for 11 years.

Nine-year-old MaqueshaQ Croom said she learned that "anger is only one letter away from danger."

Michael Roberts, 8, said he learned punching and hitting are not the answer.

"Just handle it, and learn to say I'm sorry," he said.

Amitra Hodge, a Buffalo State College education professor, and Janice Nelson of Women and Children's Hospital conducted the workshop for youngsters 11 and older. It focused on celebrating individuality. The children viewed a film on racial stereotypes and completed worksheets on that topic, positive characteristics and learning about oneself.

"One thing I left with the kids is, while they're celebrating the holidays, celebrate who they are and focus on who they want to be and what kind of legacy they want to leave," Nelson said.

"I learned it's OK to be a person of color and to get along with people and not to be [racially prejudiced]," said Daniel Wyatt, 11.

While youngsters were busy with workshops, adults attended a seminar on education, health and empowerment.

The panel included Folasade Oladele, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Buffalo Public Schools; Leslie Blair, coordinator of the Smoking Cessation Center at Roswell Park Cancer Institute; Melissa Stasio of Planned Parenthood of Western New York; Ann Miller, a nurse in Millard Fillmore Hospital's diabetes and endocrinology department; Lisa Binsley, outreach coordinator of the Family Justice Center; Sheila Bass of the Eat Smart New York program of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County; and Samuel L. Radford III, the Buffalo Local Action Committee's minister of education.

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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