To me, the month of December brightens the end of the year like a cheerful hearth fire brightens the dead of winter. I love the rituals, foods, smells, and sense of connection that surround the holidays. And, like most kids, I love the gifts.

I believe that we celebrate the sacredness of life when we give each other gifts. It may be just a handkerchief or a tin of cookies or a book, but the message it carries is so much larger. A gift says, "I care about you. You and I are connected in a special way." Giving to others is like giving to ourselves, because it spreads a loving feeling in our personal worlds.

I'm writing this letter because I want to encourage you to give to charity this holiday season. The holidays are a time to remember all of our human family, not just those who are close to us. When we share with people we don't know, we draw tighter our web of human connections. This is a gift that comes back to us many times over.

You could say that here in the United States, people get gifts all the time. Our nation is richly blessed. I'm proud to say that we're also compassionate and generous.

As the National Goodwill Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, I've had a chance to meet many Americans who freely give their time and money to help others. Did you know that most of the donations given to charity come from middle-income donors, not from foundations or corporations? Miracles are happening every day simply because ordinary people are sharing their gifts with other ordinary people.

Right now, charitable giving in the United States is down from previous years. There are many reasons for this, like the stock market and unemployment. But in tough times people need our help more than ever.

If you imagine that humanity is like a tree, then the gift givers are the roots that help us grow strong branches. They fuel us; they're what keep us alive. Without them, we would slowly wither and die. Your decision to give - or not to give - ultimately affects everyone.

I hope that your holidays this year will be full of the delights of the season, most especially the precious gift of giving!

Mattie J.T. Stepanek, age 13
Muscular Dystrophy Association Goodwill Ambassador

Bush Deserves Credit for Economic Recovery

We need to keep focused on the fact that the recent spurt in the economy can be directly attributed to President Bush's tax-relief plan; specifically, the putting in our pockets extra cash that most of us went out and spent, just like we were supposed to. That spending has snowballed into kick-starting the economy.

Byron A. Tatti
Burlington, Iowa

Dean Is an Elitist

I am writing to let the people of Iowa know what a native Vermonter thinks of Howard Dean.

All you have to know about our former governor is to listen to what he said on CNN during the recent debate in Boston. He was taking heat from the other candidates about his remarks on the poor Southern white folks and his mentioning of the Confederate flag. In typical fashion, he couldn't bring himself to admit (although he did the day after) that he used a poor choice of words or do anything like give an apology.

While taking the heat, he tried to get control by saying what a strong governor he had been and how he had made the hard choices required of a governor. He used as his example the gay-marriage (civil-union) law he signed into law, against the wishes the majority of Vermonters.

He didn't stop there. He went on to say that 65 percent of Vermonters were simply "ignorant" as it pertained to this issue. Note he didn't say 65 percent of Vermonters disagreed with him. He said 65 percent of Vermonters were ignorant.

Guess what he must think of you, because he has only known you for two years!

He is, plain and simple, an elitist, arrogant, self-serving politician.

Have you wondered why he is going after the idealistic, under-30-year-old voter? There is a reason he isn't courting the seasoned citizen. You might just fall into his 65-percent ignorant category while the young are so idealistic they will follow almost anyone who panders to them.

You might ask why did Vermonters kept re-electing him. The answer is simple. As long as he kept to the conservative, fiscal policies of the Republican governor (who died in office) he replaced, we were content, and he never had a strong opponent. Ask 65 percent of Vermonters today if they would re-elect him, and you will get a big "No way!"

I am a seasoned citizen, retired LTC, USAF, and a native-born son of Vermont. I do not belong to any political party.

Ed Goyette
Colchester , Vermont

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