Students at Amazing Grace Christian School in Seattle cleaned out their piggy banks and raised more than $2,500 to benefit veterans groups and one disabled veteran.
The war in Afghanistan may be across the globe, but the conflict is very much a part of the daily curriculum in Michelle Zimmerman’s class at Amazing Grace Christian School in Seattle.
When the class saw a news story about Army 1st Lt. Dan Berschinski, of Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, who had lost his legs in battle, “We wanted to know more about Afghanistan,” said Taelor Willhoite, 12, one of the students in the combined sixth- and seventh-grade class.
Writing to the soldiers there and learning about the war prompted the students to start a school-year-long campaign to support the troops and their families. The results: more than $2,500 raised for veterans groups and Berschinski.
The campaign began after reading about Berschinski and hearing from Army Lt. Daniel Boirum, who visited their class.
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Zimmerman had invited Boirum, a friend of hers, to talk to the students about his service in Afghanistan. As it turned out, he also knew Berschinski.
When the students decided to write letters to the troops in Afghanistan, they were careful to observe what Boirum had told them: Don’t call soldiers heroes because they are just doing their jobs. And, he emphasized, there is nothing fun about war.
The students decided they could use Transformer toys as a metaphor for what the soldiers are trying to do in Afghanistan — “transform” the conditions of that country. The students sent the letters, along with packages of Rice Krispie treats, to Boirum after he returned to Afghanistan. He distributed them to other soldiers.
“They were trying to understand our world and then say thank you. And they did so with incredible creativity and class,” Boirum said in an e-mail to The Seattle Times. “There wasn’t an infantryman out here who didn’t crack a genuine smile when they got a few Transformers-themed letters. If that didn’t do it, the cranberry Rice Krispie treats definitely did.”
In November, the students hosted a lunch for retired chaplains from the World War II, Korea and Vietnam eras.
The chaplains rewarded them by donating $300 to benefit the class. But rather than keep the money for themselves, the students decided to use it to help vets.
And they started a fundraising campaign to help more people in need. Their goal was to raise $200 by involving the entire 165-student school.
Letters went home to parents. Posters advertised the campaign. To their surprise, the goal was easily met, so they raised it to $500. When that goal was reached, it went higher.
When the fundraiser finally ended, the students had raised $2,556.
Recently, the students gave $1,000 to Seattle’s Fisher House, a place where families of veterans undergoing treatment at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center can stay.
“It’s inspiring to see children so young showing concern to our military families,” said Cecile Bagrow, manager of Fisher House, which opened in 2008.
The donation was not designated for any particular use, but Fisher House, which can serve 21 families at a time, tries to keep the pantry stocked with supplies for families who fly in from all over the nation.
The students sent $500 to Wheels for Warriors, a nonprofit that provides accessible vans for disabled veterans. The rest went to Berschinski, who’s from Peachtree City, Ga. Berschinski has been convalescing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., but is expected to go home for Memorial Day.
Since the contribution was sent just last week, and Berschinski spent the last few days seeing a specialist in Florida, he was unaware of the gift until told about it by a reporter.
“I’m humbled by their kindness,” he said.
There were many lessons that came from the months of study and fundraising, Zimmerman said. One lesson is that life is short.
“You have to say, ‘I love you’ to your parents today,” she said. “Some kids won’t get another chance.”
Another is the somber reality of war.
“When I wrote the students, I wanted them to know that we appreciated their treats and more importantly their support,” Boirum, who is still Afghanistan, said in his e-mail to the newspaper. “But I didn’t want them to write letters and be supportive out of blind patriotic desire.
“It would be a huge injustice to only tell kids that warfare is cool,” he wrote. “They might be a little too young to understand that war is both the most awesome and most horrific of human affairs. I hoped they’d understand that everything in life has more than one perspective and that the challenge is to judge the cost before agreeing to pay the price.”
Despite the somber realities the students came to know, nothing would diminish their pride.
Said 12-year-old Peter Nguyen: “It made me feel really happy that we helped someone.”
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or firstname.lastname@example.org