On Monday, the nation will mark Flag Day 2010, but to the students and staff of Buckeye North Middle School in Brilliant every day of this past school year has been pumped full of support for our nation's military personnel and their family members thanks to a simple class project that blossomed into a sense of patriotism so solid it can be touched.
It all started with a passing comment at a wedding reception between friends about a recent overseas deployment of a loved one.
That was all the seed information Life Skills Class Instructor Patricia Vuchenich needed to get started on what would prove to be much more than a standard class project meant to target an experience in community service for a handful of middle school students.
T-L Photos/KIM LOCCISANO
A sense of patriotism and pride at Buckeye North Middle School is something shared by every person connected to the school as a basic class project focused on the value of community service projects blossomed into an all-school effort that spanned the entire school year and half the globe. Life Skills Instructor Patricia Vuchenich (right) and Vickie Moore (left) of the school's support staff say they could not be more pleased with the positive lessons shared and learned by students participating in a project that involved making decorative and gift items, writing letters, crafting seasonal cards of celebration and more for soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
It was during the summer of 2009 when Vickie Moore, a member of the support staff at North Middle School, spoke with one of the school's teaching staff she happened to see during a wedding reception they were both attending when conversation turned to what was new in the lives of family and friends since the school year had ended.
The conversation that followed has had an ongoing positive impact on those affiliated with the local middle school and an increasing audience of military personnel deployed in Afghanistan.
What started as letters being sent to a soldier with local ties quickly became much more as it was soon discovered a member of the Buckeye South High School graduating Class of 1986, Michael Elbert, was part of the military community Vickie Moore's son-in-law, Spc. Kyle Brooks, calls home while deployed.
Brooks, a police officer in civilian life and a reservist, is serving with the 447th Military Police Company led by CPT Patrick Nickle.
Elbert is better known these days as Commander Michael Elbert, Commanding Officer of the Navy Military Police Battalion Afghanistan.
These men made it clear to the North Middle school students that every act of kindness undertaken by them as part of this very special school project was seen on the receiving end as gifts straight from the heart.
The wave of appreciation the soldiers and sailors shared with the school's students and faculty at home made clear just how much the efforts of these 6th, 7th and 8th graders - and those supporting them - means to each of these members of our nation's military service.
"We'll have to do something." was the basic response shared during that initial conversation about Brooks' deployment which passed between Moore and Vuchenich.
North Middle School Principal Sharon Wallace could not be more proud of her students or staff.
"This is something we plan to take with us into the new school year," she offered
Wallace was also impressed with the kindness and expressions of gratitude and appreciation she saw being communicated in return by Brooks and his fellow soldiers as they readily shared the cards, letters and gifts with personnel from several other branches of our military who are also part of that community.
`"The soldiers in the 447th and myself are very lucky to have people like you back home who support us. In our eyes you are the heroes! When we work 12 hours straight for 2 or 3 weeks at a time, without a day off and we get cards like yours from people who care, it makes everything that we do worth it," said Brooks in a letter to the Life Skills class.
"We have seen a lot of things both bad and good," said Brooks in a letter to the local students. "The kids your age have a tough life. They live in houses made of mud. They are not fortunate enough to go to school most of the time, it is very sad. There are a lot of great people here too. People who need our help so that their country can be free like ours."
"In Mrs. Vuchenich's letter she said, 'hopefully in our small way, we can make this world a better place.' Well that is what everyone here was thinking when we joined the army, and that is what all of you are doing," said Brooks in a return letter to the students at North Middle School. "The world will not change overnight, and it has a long way to go, but it is young people like you guys who are making the world a better place. So, thanks again to all of you for being my heroes!"
The efforts of these local school children were clearly appreciated by everyone who had the opportunity to read a letter, enjoy some of the carefully chosen candy that was frequently sent, or felt a smile come to the surface when seeing the handmade ornaments and gifts sent throughout the year.
For some, particularly those with children waiting back home to see them when their tour of duty is done, the seemingly smallest effort put into any part of this on-going project was deeply appreciated, and often brought a heartfelt note of appreciation from man of woman serving in our nation's military half way around the world.
"I am CPT Patrick Nickle, Commander of the 447th Military Police Company. I just received a package from you and I wanted to thank you. I think it is wonderful that you take the time to make and send cards and treats to the soldiers. I know the soldiers appreciate the package and appreciate your support," said the company commander, who is himself the proud father of a 9th grader. "This company has worked very hard and has impressed a lot of people along the way. Oftentimes reservists don't get the credit they deserve but the men and women I work with are changing that thought process," he reflected in a letter to the Life Skills class.
"Gifts like yours make life that much more enjoyable after having days like they do," he said in a letter to the students that gave them a candid picture of the difficult challenges soldiers in such situations often face none of them pleasant. "They appreciate tie simpler things in life not that they have seen how bad things can be. One of those simple pleasures is getting off of shift and getting mail. They don't care who it is from, they just want to know they are not forgotten. So thank you for supporting us, we do appreciate your contribution and I appreciate the smile you put on the faces of my Soldiers."
In appreciation for the efforts of the students and as a means of personally connecting with everyone at the local school care packages including a video were sent from the appreciative soldiers.
"When we were playing that video for everyone in the school, you could have heard a pin drop," said Wallace of the behavior exhibited by all those in the school when given the chance to be introduced to these military men and women through a video made specifically for them. They could even see the Christmas trees decorated with the ornaments they made and sent to them. It was wonderful for our students to see how much their acts of kindness were appreciated.
Wallace admitted getting a bit of a surprise herself when she received a letter from a member of the U.S. Navy, who was a graduate of the local school system as well.
"We had sent our items to soldiers in the Army, and here was a letter coming to us from someone in the Navy. It was heartwarming to know that the efforts made by our students and ultimately by the entire school to make life a little brighter for the men and woman serving in our country's military was so appreciated that they were shared among friends, and that these branched out into the military community of men and women from the various services," said Wallace.
"The cards were wonderful and not only did the 447th's soldiers see them, my battalion did also. Creative and thoughtful items like this go a very long way in a soldier/sailor's morale. These young minds are a breath of fresh air to us here and every reminder of the U.S. is welcomed with open arms," said the 1986 graduate of Buckeye South High School. "Please express my gratitude to these young ladies and gentlemen for taking the time and energy to think of the soldiers/sailors from our great State. They all are truly young heroes in our minds for these brilliant gestures to increase our morale. Thank you."