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by Abigail Van Buren

Troubled Teens in Jail Take Shared Compliments to Heart

DEAR ABBY: Remember the letter in your column about the teacher who asked students to write compliments to one another, and then passed them along to each individual? Well, Abby, I used her idea -- with wonderful results!

I work in "Chaya," a prison ministry for incarcerated youth in Arizona. Last year, two weeks before Valentine's Day, I gave a talk on love and respect for one another to 25 girls between the ages of 12 and 18. Afterward, I passed out paper and pencils to the girls and instructed them to write a compliment for each girl -- and to say nothing if they didn't have anything nice to say. I told them not to sign their names, as all compliments should be given out of love, not the hope of being thanked. Nearly all the girls complimented every other girl.

I took the papers home that night and typed a list of compliments for each girl. I deleted anything negative or questionable, including the few slang terms with which I was unfamiliar. I cut out 25 large red hearts and pasted a compliment list to the back of each one. My children decorated the front with doilies, stickers, pictures and lace.

I distributed the hearts to the girls at the Valentine party we hosted. I asked each girl to read her compliments to herself and then to share the one compliment that meant the most to her, and the one that surprised her the most. It was a meaningful experience, especially for these troubled girls who have had little or no affection or positive affirmation in their lives. The girls told me how much they cherished these hearts, and the staff allowed them to be hung on their walls -- which was a great privilege for them.

Abby, I would like to thank the person who came up with that idea, and you for printing it. It took some work on my part to make sure no one was hurt by insults, but that was a responsibility I enjoyed because I got to read all the outpouring of love. -- LITA JOHNSON, PHOENIX

DEAR LITA: You took a terrific idea and ran with it, which is to your credit. We all need positive reinforcement from time to time.

It appears that everyone, including yourself, benefited from the assignment -- the surest sign that it was a real winner!