• Patton students reach out to local veterans

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    “You guys are good. I respect you; we respect you. How do you think we got freedom? Government, the Constitution, lots of things, like the military, Navy and, well, you! God bless and thank you guys for your service.”
    These were the parting words in Patton Junior High School eighth-grader Zander Camarillo’s Halloween card to ailing veterans at the Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leavenworth.
    Seventeen students from the Patton Action Team created Halloween cards and posters to send to the veterans as part of a yearlong project to remember them on major holidays throughout the year.
    The Patton Action Teams are student-created projects that stem from the Leader in Me program, allowing students to live out effective student habits while focusing on leadership and culture in the school and throughout the community, said Ryan Wiebe, Patton principal.
    The idea for the project started when Lori Wilcox, Patton social studies teacher, said something that resonated with one of the students.
    “Ms. Wilcox made a big speech talking about the veterans and how all the World War I veterans have passed away and how we really need to look after and take care of the ones left because time is running out,” said eighth-grader Anthony Franchitti. “That really inspired me to make this a reality.
    “The big part of that is just making sure that they feel a part of the community,” he said. “We need to make sure they have a good time while they have it left.”
    From there, Franchitti and Patton eighth-grader Chase Blumenfeld wrote a proposal and the project began.
    “I never really realized until a few years ago what really happens and the things that people go through when they’re at war like (post-traumatic stress disorder) and how severe it is and the injuries you can get,” Blumenfeld said.
    Along with the cards and posters, the students hope to visit the VA and talk with the veterans in-person and collect oral histories, an idea that Joseph Burks, director of public relations for VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System, said would be a great thing when he visited the students Oct. 23 at the school.
    “We can do all the healing we need inside the hospital, but the best healing takes place outside of our hospital,” Burks told the students, “and that’s through connections, conversations, sharing their stories, letting the next generation know just how important it was what they did for our country.”
    Currently, the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System has 44 community living center residents with 17 of them residing at the Leavenworth VA Medical Center.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Our veterans ask for very little compared to the cost they paid in serving our nation,” Burks said. “When the community reaches out to say ‘thank you,’ no matter the size of gesture, our veterans appreciate it. A gift is so much more than a gift. It is hope, it is kindness, it is healing. Veterans’ eyes light up when the youth of this country take notice.”
    Eighth-grader Julia Flynn said she’s realized how simple a gesture can be while doing this project and the effect it can have on the veterans.
    “I’ve learned how much people can make a difference to those who struggle and how words can impact people’s lives,” Flynn said. “Without (the veterans) and the people who served in all the previous wars and battles, it is just so important to remember because they shaped our lives today. They did something so great. They made sacrifices, they left their families, they left everything to help our nation, and if we don’t remember that, who are we to say that we live here, to say this is our place if we don’t respect those who made it?”
    Beyond the gifts and gestures, Burks said allowing the veterans to tell their stories is the best thing a person can do for them.
    “If the history of this great nation can only be shared by books then we miss the opportunity to learn of the personalities behind the stories,” he said. “To look into their eyes when sharing of past experiences takes you to a place they once knew. Comradery is the life-blood of success in any generation and our veterans understand this. To share their time, their stories, their lives with the next generation assures their sacrifices will not be forgotten when the books sit on the shelves.”
    Burks said both the veterans and students can inspire each other.
    “The bonds these veterans shared decades ago can be realized today, tomorrow and into the future by our youth, but most importantly, the comradery shared by veterans in combat, to get them home alive, can be a source of inspiration for these students as they begin to build relationships and look to a future of success through their own lenses,” he said, “and I want these students and their parents to know that they will always inspire our veterans through acknowledging that their service was and is important.”
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