East Islip Middle School’s Girls Leaders Club paid a Valentine’s visit to veterans in need of deserved appreciation, and the trip to the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook proved valuable for both the veterans and eighth-graders alike. “It was a great success – the residents and the girls had a great time,” said Leaders Club adviser Laura Hegna.
The Leaders Club is comprised of eighth-grade girls who participate in a variety of school, local and national-level fundraisers and community service projects. Last October they raised nearly $400 for UNICEF, in November they promoted kindness and the spirit of giving by sponsoring "Thankful Thoughts,” and in December the Leaders Club “adopted” an East Islip family (a single mother and her three children) for the holiday, providing them with over $200 in holiday gifts. “We met on a Saturday morning,” Hegna remembered, “and the girls actually did the shopping and gift wrapping themselves.” The club members also promote healthy lifestyles with the sale of healthy snacks after school every Friday and Monday throughout the year.
The organization’s February community service project focused on Valentine’s Day and senior veterans. “We wanted to let them know that we love our vets,” Hegna said. The students spent five weeks making Valentine’s Day cards and placemats with statements such as “Happy Valentine’s Day,” “Thank you for your service” and “God Bless America.” The club then visited the veterans home and spent craft hour with some of the residents, among them Hegna’s stepfather. The girls helped the vets make Valentine’s gifts of decorations and frames for their loved ones. “In most cases, the residents had pictures taken with the girls and placed that picture in the frame or on the hearts that they were decorating,” said Hegna. “It was very endearing!”
“The nursing home field trip was a very fun experience,” said Brianna Maye. “It was fun to help them with crafts and nice to see how much they appreciated our company.”
Margaret Launonen agreed. “Going to the veterans nursing home was an amazing experience. Helping them and letting them tell their stories made them feel alive.”
“My veteran’s name was Leroy,” recalled Karlie Herrera. “His wife passed away, but he had five children and many friends at the nursing home. Leroy was very kind and did very well making crafts. We made funny faces taking pictures and had lots of fun together. He made lots of jokes and kept telling me how much he enjoyed having a visitor. Leroy even asked me to be his valentine!”
Kyra Walls had such a good time, she wishes she could go back for another visit. “I made two friends, Charlie and Johnnie,” she said. “They both hugged me before I left. It was so cute! Johnnie was blind in one eye and he let us put stickers on his face. He gave us all lollipops and it was so sweet. Charlie told me I could be his valentine and he sang and danced.”
“It was an amazing experience,” said Victoria Rossi. “It changed my mind about what I should be thankful for – that I have a safe and fun family. I am truly proud to be an American.”