- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2004

Tom Veneziani sat in his wheelchair and waved as about 20 preschool children and 15 seventh-graders filed into the common room at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s Nursing Home in Northwest.

“You’re very pretty,” he whispered to a 4-year-old girl who smiled back and then looked at her feet.

For the past three years, teacher Larry Watson and his class from Peabody Elementary School at 425 C St. NE have celebrated Christmas and Valentine’s Day with the residents at the veterans’ hospital. They were joined by teacher Doug Creef and his seventh-grade class from Stuart-Hobson Museum Middle School at 410 E St. NE.

Yesterday they sang songs and handed out red-and-pink handmade valentines to patients who might not have visitors often.

“This brings back some good memories,” said Mr. Veneziani, who was reminded of his sons when they were little. “I can see them. These children have the same enthusiasm, and they’re happy. They’re just beautiful.”

From the smile on his face, you wouldn’t know he is very sick.

“I’m dying,” said Mr. Veneziani, who was in the Army for 22 years and served two tours in Vietnam. “They put me in here so I’d be comfortable.”

He said the visit was a “wonderful break” from medical tests and the monotony of living in a nursing home.

Mr. Watson remained calm as he guided his chattering students into place. “It just looks chaotic; it’s actually very organized,” said Mr. Watson, 50, who has taught at Peabody for the past five years after leaving the engraving business.

When they started rocking, the “Peabody Singers” shook tambourines and told their audience to “Hold your head up high/keep it to the sky/We’ll always be around/especially when you’re down.”

“We’re helping them feel better because today is a special day,” said Simone Hinton, 4.

Mr. Watson wanted to teach the children about helping others and found that the veterans’ hospital was a great place for them to get involved.

The lesson was driven home in a special way two years ago in May when a veteran’s daughter went out of her way to thank the class. The woman, whose father had passed away, called Mr. Watson.

“She told me her father had spoken to her about the children coming to visit, and she had no idea what he was talking about,” he said.

After finding all of the craft items her father had saved from Peabody visits, the woman made a surprise visit to the class with her own gifts for each student.

“It really made then even more aware of how good it makes the veterans feel for them to come, sing and perform and share the handmade presents with them,” Mr. Watson said.

“Some of the residents don’t get daily visitors. Sometimes they don’t even get weekly visitors,” said Katy Hussey-Sloniker, the nursing home’s volunteer service specialist. “And for patients that are elderly, it provides an ambience that gives them an instant smile for the day.”

Alyce Dixon, 96, looks forward to that special Peabody smile.

“What’s so fun is they’re so observant,” said Ms. Dixon, who has been in the nursing home for three years. “They’re very lovely.”

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