- The Washington Times - Monday, June 14, 2004

Lamek Kahsay and Krysten Peterson each received their first American flag yesterday, a gift that left the two elementary schoolchildren from the District with a feeling of pride and a sense of belonging.

“I never had an American flag before and now that I have one, I am so proud to have a flag of the country I belong to,” said Lamek, 7, who was born in Norway and lives in the District.

Krysten, 6, who was born in Trinidad and lives in the Washington area, gazed at the red, white and blue as she thought about where she would put the flag at home.

“It’s beautiful, colorful and makes me feel like I belong to this country,” Krysten said. “I am going to put it on my counter when I get home.”

Both children, who attend the Sacred Heart Elementary School in Northwest, were among the dozens of students involved in after-school programs at the YMCA National Capital in Northwest who got a special delivery of small American flags to celebrate Flag Day.

The delivery was made by DHL, a global express delivery company, which also donated a full-size American flag and $5,000 to the YMCA.

“A major part of the message is to show children of migration parents that they can come home carrying the flag of their country and that can give these children and their families a sense of belonging,” said Neal Hickson, a director of the Youth and Family Services Center of YMCA National Capital.

Groom Dagen, 10, of Northwest, echoed Mr. Hickson’s sentiments.

“The flag reminds me of America,” said the fifth-grader from Ross Elementary School in Northwest. “When I get home I am going to staple it to the wall in my room because it represents the country I live in, and I am proud to be an American.”

This is the second year that the YMCA, at 1711 Rhode Island Ave. NW, has provided after-school programs for schoolchildren in the D.C. area. The center’s curriculum stresses character-building, Mr. Hickson said.

Mr. Hickson said there has been a surge in patriotism across the area. He thinks the surge began with the September 11 attacks and has continued through the war in Iraq, last month’s dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the Mall and the death of former President Ronald Reagan.

“We’re all united by that flag,” Mr. Hickson told the children.

The celebration at the YMCA was one of many held across the region in honor of Flag Day.

In Virginia, nearly 100 people became naturalized citizens in an annual immigration and naturalization ceremony on the Bowling Green at Mount Vernon, the home of America’s first president, George Washington. The ceremony was co-hosted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Mount Vernon, in partnership with the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Sons of the American Revolution.

In Maryland, the National Flag Day Foundation Inc. held its 25th annual pause and recital of the Pledge of Allegiance last night at the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore. Last night’s recital became even more special for some after the U.S Supreme Court, over the strong objections of three justices, declined to rule on whether the phrase “under God” in the Pledge violates the constitutional separation of church and state in public schools.

Residents throughout the region said they felt differently about Flag Day this year with the World War II Memorial dedication and Mr. Reagan’s death.

“Flag Day tends to get overshadowed by the other summer holidays,” said Jeffrey Wilkinson, 38, of Alexandria. “I think more people will pay attention to it this year.”

“When you consider that Reagan just died and that the ‘Greatest Generation’ just got their memorial, it makes you look at the holiday in a different way,” said Thomas Mainwaring, 76, a Korean War veteran who lives in Crystal City.

“I think the city looks just wonderful right now,” his wife, Gladys Mainwaring, 65, said. “It makes you proud to be an American.”

Sean Salai contributed to this report.

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