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Friendship Thrives Close to the Heart

Valentine's Day looms, and across Fairfield County people are celebrating friends and acquaintances. Through Main Street Connect's " Close to My Heart " contest, they are sharing stories of triumph and heartache experienced with those they call friend.

Madeline Monde learned what truly matters from her friend Wendy : coffee ice cream, her cat and the comforts of friendship. Wendy was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and spent the last year of her life under care and supervision. "I wanted to share Wendy's message of living in the moment and appreciating life's small wonders," said Monde.

Donna Custer sees friendship as a lifelong bond that rivals family. She wrote about Tony , whom she met as a young boy in the Norwalk Mentoring Program. Now 15 years later, the two remain close. "I believe that friendship is a lifelong commitment, and once the relationship is established, it provides mutual benefits for both parties," said Custer. "I have no doubt that Tony and I and his family will be friends for life, and no distance or time will sever those ties or that commitment."

For Lauren Riordan, friendship goes beyond lifelong. Her friend Andrew , not his real name to protect the family's privacy, died 20 years ago of complications from AIDS and HIV. The anniversary of his passing was last November, and Riordan wrote about him for Close To My Heart as part of the continuing process of accepting the loss of the only person she will ever call her best friend. "I'm the kind of person who never stops processing something, and sometimes I need to do it through words," said Riordan.

Close to My Heart celebrates Valentine's Day by asking participants to share stories about someone who has touched their lives. Now through Feb. 13, readers can submit their stories. On Valentine's Day, a panel of three judges will choose 10 finalists. The grand prize winner will receive $10,000, half of which goes to a local nonprofit of their choice. The other nine finalists will receive $500 each, with half of that also shared with a nonprofit of their choice.

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