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Art bridges years for young, old

David Michie and Sammy Losito sat side by side as they worked on watercolor renderings of three plastic mugs arranged together in the middle of the table.

"Sammy has more talent in his little finger than most of us have in our entire body," said Michie, 64, a retired dentist. "I'm really impressed. Also, I'm impressed at how polite all the youngsters are."

Michie and 11-year-old Sammy, of Clearwater, are part of a pilot intergenerational project between the Palms of Largo retirement and nursing home and eight youngsters from one of Largo's outreach centers for children. The center is run by the Largo Recreation Department.

The Palms of Largo Intergenerational Community Foundation is paying all costs, including the teacher's fee, materials and snacks.

On Mondays, Monali Simmons, an art teacher from Largo, meets with the youngsters at the outreach center in the Clearwater/Largo Free Methodist Church in Largo.

On Wednesdays, the children are bused to the Palms Learning Center to spend about two hours with residents. The classes are expected to last through November.

"The outreach center is mainly a place where neighborhood youngsters can participate in after-school activities their parents might not be able to afford," said Mike Whalen, program manager. "The area has a lot of single-parent homes."

Kathy Klesmit, the Palms intergenerational activity director, said, "We thought art classes would be a good way to get the generations together. The kids and the seniors are setting goals together and are learning from each other."

On a recent day, six Palms residents participated, including Michie and his wife, Betsy, who spend several months at their Imperial Palms retirement apartment and the rest of the year in Rawlins, Wyo.

Simmons, the teacher said, "As you sit down to draw today, remember this is one of the few places you are in total control. You can paint the way you want to."

Midway through the session, Simmons led the children to a wall where some of their paintings hung. Some sported first-place blue ribbons, and others had gold "Excellence" seals.

"Positive reinforcement is what all these youngsters need," Simmons said. "These kids are amazing, with such good qualities. They just need a little time and attention to flourish. Just a week ago, the kids were a little rambunctious. Now, when the bus comes for them, they don't want to leave. They hug everyone."

"I like the older people," said James Simonek, a student at Southern Oaks Elementary School in Largo. "They are like grandparents to us."