Project aims to honor soldiers
It's not too common for 18-year-olds to ask 9- and 10-year-olds for help with their homework. But last week, six college freshmen visited Basehor Elementary School to ask a fourth-grade class for help with a school project.
The freshmen - Christine Southard, Jessica Kane, Tiana Breitenbach, Scott Link, Jesse Green and Rachael Gutierrez - are students in a leadership tutorial at Kansas City Kansas Community College. For the class's semester project, the group has to plan and execute a leadership project and make a presentation about it. The six students chose to collect money to buy snacks, hygiene products and entertainment items for U.S. troops serving in Iraq. The group's motto for the project is "Help serve those who are helping to serve you."
Southard, a 2005 Lansing High School graduate, said the goal of the project was to remind people that troops are still in Iraq. Sending soldiers gifts and letters of encouragement was common when troops were first deployed, Southard said, but she said she didn't think the troops were at the forefront of people's minds anymore.
"In spite of recent events, soldiers are still there," she said.
To help boost morale, the students went to BES on Thursday, Oct. 6, and commissioned Jayne Denny's fourth-grade class to decorate paper bags, write letters and videotape messages for the soldiers.
Breitenbach, who graduated from Basehor-Linwood High School in 2005, said she was a mentor to students at BES during her junior and senior years of high school. So when her college group was looking for a place to involve younger students in their project, she said she just called the principal and worked it out.
"I don't think we could've asked for that to turn out any better," she said.
No two bags were alike when the fourth-graders were done with them. Some featured flags, soldiers and tanks; others carried messages such as "Thank you for keeping us save" and "Fighting for freedom." Kaitlin Hawkinson drew a monkey on her bag and said she was considering adding a penguin.
Two students who sat next to each other were working with a similar theme, but the bags each had a distinctive touch. Amanda Batesel drew a person, a flag and a flower; Joseph Clopton drew a person, a flag and an army truck with the message "Soldiers rock!"
Amanda shared what she had written in her letter to the soldiers.
"I wrote about how much I was thanking them and how nice it was for them to be out there doing this for us and other people who need freedom," Amanda said.
Joseph said he was glad to take part in an effort to send the soldiers gifts.
"Soldiers don't have very much stuff. They probably miss their family and their homes," he said. "They're out in the desert; they have these bagged foods that are all squishy."
To help remind soldiers of home, the KCKCC students will send the decorated bags, letters and a DVD of the messages students recorded to a group of prison guards in the 82nd Airborne Unit of the Army, Southard said. But first, the students have to raise money both for items to fill the bags and postage. Kane, another 2005 LHS grad, said shipping to Iraq would cost at least $50.
In order to raise money, the students said they were beginning a knock-on-doors campaign. Gutierrez, a 2005 graduate of Sumner Academy in Kansas City, Kan., said she collected $10 by talking to her neighbors. As of Thursday, that was all the money the group had collected so far. Group members said they hoped to increase their collections by asking businesses to either make a donation or to have a can for spare change there.
In addition, the students said they were using their connections to ask other groups to collaborate. Link, a 2005 graduate of Bonner Springs High School, asked his former English class to raise money for the cause. Green asked the National Honor Society chapter at his alma mater, Turner High School in Kansas City, Kan., to do the same.
Kane said the group's fund-raising goal was "as much as we can get." The deadline for the project is more certain - the group wants to send the care packages by Nov. 4 so they will get to the troops in time for Thanksgiving. Anyone interested in donating can contact the group at email@example.com.