INDIAN TRAIL – Valentine’s Day is about more than passing out candy hearts or making glittery cards for fourth-graders at Indian Trail Elementary School – it’s also a chance to show appreciation for United States military veterans.
The students recently completed their fourth annual Valentines for Vets project, a community service effort where they use the holiday to show appreciation for veterans. Students made more than 200 cards for veterans, wishing them a happy Valentine’s Day and thanking them for their service.
Cathy Reese, a fourth-grade teacher at Indian Trail Elementary, launched the project in 2011 by asking fellow fourth-grade teachers to have their students make Valentine cards to be delivered to veterans in North Carolina.
Reese was inspired to initiate the project by a former Ohio newspaper advice columnist who requested teachers and their students annually participate in a service project to honor U.S. service members during the week of Valentine’s Day.
“We want to give (veterans) something positive to lift them up” during the holiday, Reese said.
The first Valentines for Vets effort was so successful that the Indian Trail fourth-grade teachers decided to host the event each year. Students make Valentines of their own design using construction paper and other craft materials. They write messages of thanks and encouragement on the cards, and many students include a picture of the United States flag – something Reese says means a lot to the vets.
Richard Mitchells, with the Charlotte Marine Corps League Detachment 750, helps organize the delivery of the cards to veterans of the Wounded Warriors barracks at Camp Lejeune. Typically, someone from the league shows up in person at the school to collect the Valentines, but recent inclement weather prevented the annual visit from occurring this year.
“Unfortunately, with the weather and timing, we were not able to have him come in and pick them up in person,” Reese said. “It’s really nice (to receive the annual visit) because the person from the Marine Corps League comes in, in their uniform and will chat with students about who the Wounded Warriors are, and students have the opportunity to ask questions.”
Reese said the fourth-graders learn a lot from the project each year. The students read the book “H is for Honor” this year, which focuses on honoring people in the military.
“I think it makes it realistic for the students because they are understanding at a young age that there are people out there who sacrificed for our country,” Reese said. “I think (students are) enthusiastic because they’re learning who veterans are, and many of them realize they have veterans in their own families.”
Several fourth-graders were vocal about what the Valentines for Vets project meant – to themselves, as well as the veterans receiving the cards.
“This was an important activity because we want to erase bad memories. We want to try to make their day better,” fourth-grader Lela Whitmire said in a news release from the school.
For fourth-grader Nathan Judy, Valentines for Vets was an opportunity to show thanks to those who have sacrificed so much for their country and its citizens.
“It’s nice to do that because (veterans) serve our country and don’t get to come home and see their loved ones,” Nathan said in the release.
Reese plans to continue hosting Valentines for Vets in years to come, educating students on how much veterans sacrifice to keep the U.S. safe and free.
“If one of our students is out in public and sees an elderly person who has served our country, perhaps in a military uniform, I want them to understand the sacrifice these people have made for our freedom,” she said. “I want them to feel thankful for what we have.”