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Contest bridges generations with essays

Six children in the "My Favorite Older Person" essay contest touch the hearts of loved ones by reading their work.

Eileen DeFreitas is a slight woman who over the years has mastered a way to spread herself evenly among her 10 children, 20 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. When it comes to bestowing gifts upon the youngsters in her life, she's likely to focus on the intangible ones.

According to Stephanie DeFreitas, who has spent some good time with the woman she calls "Granny," there's something to be said for the elder's way of nurturing family values. The fifth-grader said she has learned much from the grandmother who has always made her feel special: the importance of appreciating the family that will always be there to help even when the world is "mean and cold," the self-satisfaction that comes from volunteering in one's community and a strong belief in God that teaches you to fight "even when life is not fair."

Stephanie said all that and more in her award-winning essay for the annual "My Favorite Older Person" contest sponsored by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council/Area Agency on Aging, SunTrust Bank, Nature Coast and the Pasco County School Board.

Wednesday, Stephanie and five other fifth-grade essay contest winners had a chance to honor their favorite older person by reading their essays at a special award ceremony held at the Pasco County school district office.

Among those in the spotlight:

Ted Rutz, a grandfather known simply as "Poppy" who sings crazy songs and at Christmastime is sure to send summer sausage and maybe a wooden snowman to his granddaughter, Maxlyn Beynart.

Dan Wright is another stand-up grandfather. Every morning, "Big Daddy" reminds his granddaughter Courtnee Parr that "I am not fully dressed without my smile, and sings, "This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in It."

Symantha Aranda won an honorable mention for her essay about neighbor Chris Ringwood. Through his artwork, Ringwood has helped Symantha appreciate the beauty all around her, and he is extra-special because he makes her feel blessed. "He is the best grandfather, and he doesn't have to be," wrote Symantha.

Former Pasco County educator and principal Mittye P. Locke got high marks from her great-grandson Keith Childs for working in the Pasco school system for 50 years and sharing her memories of life way back when people grew their own vegetables because "you just didn't get into a car and drive to the grocery store."

Marielle Humeau De Aquino, whose grandson says she is well-known in the Dominican Republic for her work with children since opening a home for orphans some 20 years ago. Jorge Calabria writes that his grandmother "is sweet as honey, sugar and syrup combined, and when you are around her you feel like you are in heaven . . . and you know why? Because she's an angel."

The reading of the essays was especially touching, said Sara Walker, director of the Retired Senior and Volunteer Program in Pasco County who organized the celebration.

"This is definitely a tissue event," she said.

"These kids here, you know they make you understand that all of them (kids) aren't bad out there," said a teary-eyed Chris Ringwood, who until recently had no idea that he was the subject of such a wonderful essay.

"This really touches your heart."

Essay winners

FIRST PLACE: Stephanie DeFreitas, Mittye P. Locke Elementary.

SECOND PLACE: Courtnee Parr, Mittye P. Locke Elementary.

THIRD PLACE: Maxlyn Beynart, Quail Hollow Elementary.

HONORABLE MENTION: Keith Childs, Mittye P. Locke Elementary; Symantha Aranda, Schrader Elementary; and Jorge Calabria, Sanders Elementary.

The contest is sponsored by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council/Area Agency on Aging, SunTrust Bank, Nature Coast and the District School Board of Pasco County.