Friday, October 7, 2011

Community Service That's Close to My Heart

"We can't all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by." - Will Rogers

I'm SO excited, over the moon, thrilled, etc! If you're asking yourself if I'm still high on my recent engagement, yes, this is true (ring so shiny), but I have another reason to be giddy today, too. My principal approved my proposal for a Veteran's Day community service fundraiser. Why so important? The project will support an organization very near and dear to me, Honor Flight.

Grandpa K
Grandpa H
Both of my grandfathers served in World War II. One enlisted, the other was drafted. My Grandpa K, after being rejected numerous times, was allowed to enlist and served in Calcutta, India, and the Mariana Islands as an engineer in the Army Air Forces. My Grandpa H, the one who was drafted, served in the Army in the European Theatre, survived the Battle of the Bulge, and was a member of Patton's Army. Both men survived and are still living today.

In October 2009, I was an intern finishing my last year of my graduate program. My Grandpa H got the call that he was getting the opportunity to go on an Honor Flight. What's that, you ask?
Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America's veterans for all their sacrifices. We transport our heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials. Top priority is given to the senior veterans – World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill. Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation—and as a culturally diverse, free society. Now, with over one thousand World War II veterans dying each day, our time to express our thanks to these brave men and women is running out.
Honor Flight flies veterans to D.C. free of charge along with a "guardian," who accompanies them and meets their needs on the trip. Grandpa H lived five minutes from me for my entire life (until I moved) and we are extremely close, so as his only grandchild, I was the obvious guardian, and I was thrilled. History has always been one of my favorites, so experiencing history with my grandfather and honoring his service to our country at the same time as a no-brainer. It was such a satisfying and emotional trip.

World War II Memorial
Grandpa H at the WWII Memorial, all bundled up.
We flew out before dawn on a rainy, cold Saturday morning and from the moment we arrived in Washington, the 40+ vets were treated like kings. They were welcomed by servicemen and women at the airport gate, and as our bus left the airport, we were saluted by an honor guard of at least 20 uniformed soldiers on the curb. Everywhere we went, strangers stopped to thank them for their service. It was overwhelming, especially for vets, many of whom never thought what they did was "heroic," when in reality, they were all ordinary people who saved the world.

We toured the WWII Memorial, Korean Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Arlington and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Iwo Jima/Marine Memorial, and did drive-bys of other hot spots. It was a whirlwind trip! It was wonderful to see the sights, but what was even better was being with my grandpa, hearing his stories and watching him relive something that changed his life. There were lots of memories, smiles, and laughs, but also some tough moments and quiet time. It was a long day for sure, but Grandpa H was a trooper! Unlike most of the vets, he walked the entire trip and despite the miserable weather, he got off the bus at every stop but the last.

When we arrived home the following day, we were welcomed by an unexpected sight: a crowd of HUNDREDS of cheering servicemen and women, friends, family members, and community supporters had assembled at the airport to welcome the vets home. It was so incredible! There were school children waving flags, military personnel saluting, and people holding signs. So overwhelming and unexpected! The vets processed through the crowd and were welcomed into a reception where a high school band played patriotic music, elementary students (who had written the vets "thank you" letters that they received on a mail call on the flight to D.C.) sang a song, and local elected officials spoke. It was hard to go home because we didn't the incredible weekend to end.

I recently began volunteering with the Honor Flight hub in my city and recently sent 27 vets off on their Honor Flight. Because the vets fly for free, the organization relies totally on donations from the community. These WWII vets need recognition now, because soon there won't be any still living to thank. I drafted a proposal for a Veteran's Day project for my school to raise money to support Honor Flight, a spare change drive I called "Jar Wars."  

Jar Wars is going to run throughout the week after Veteran's Day (November 14-18). Each grade level at my school is going to have an empty milk jug to put spare change into during their lunch periods. I'm going to have student volunteers help me count the change every day (hey math skill practice), so that on the morning announcements, I can announce who's leading the donations, to create some competition. At the end of the week, the grade level with the most money is getting a pizza party.

I want to try and link the fundraiser to curriculum, too. Some possible ideas I'm tossing around are having students write letters/cards to send with veterans on their flight, thanking them for their service. This "mail call" was one of my grandpa's favorite parts when he went. I also would to talk to the local Honor Flight gurus about having a vet who has flown already come to speak to our school about his/her service and Honor Flight experience, to provide a link to American History in the Social Studies curriculum.

I'll be blogging about this program as it develops, as I've only just started putting the pieces together. Time to Fiance and I to start sucking down the milk. Suggestions welcome! I'm looking forward to doing some other community service efforts this year too (in between my massive CSE caseload and other responsibilities).

"If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a WWII veteran."

Does your school do any community service projects? What organizations does your school support?

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  1. What a great idea Aimee! I love it! And Jar Wars sounds a bit familiar :D My Grandpa just recently was able to go on a trip with the Honor Flight. And both his brothers were able to as well. I'm so glad my great uncle got the chance when he did since he just recently passed! Glad you're doing this. It's a great cause!

  2. Thanks! And yes, Jar Wars is familiar. ;) I was originally planning to do the version of Jar Wars we know, but thought it'd be too complicated for the elementary kiddos.

  3. What a great, great idea! I think that getting some face time with local vets in the area would be awesome as well. How about contacting your local vet center to find out what you can about the specifics of the service. It would be nice for the kids to work on a map/mural that could document the different parts of the world that the vets served in (never too early for geography skills) and to make it more interesting, describe what the vets would have experienced in the part of the world (how it was so different from home).


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