Scrapbook Project Helps Students Support Troops

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 2006 - An America Supports You corporate team member is coordinating creation of what it calls the world's largest scrapbook as a way for the nation's students to show their support for America's servicemembers.

Connect and Join, an Internet-based communications company that provides a safe, secure way for families and deployed servicemembers to stay in touch, is connecting students across the country with servicemembers fighting overseas through its "Connect With the Troops" program.

The company joined America Supports You -- a Defense Department program highlighting ways Americans and the corporate sector support the nation's servicemembers -- in May.

Connect and Join's program has students creating pages that, once compiled, will create the world's largest scrapbook, Linda Dennis, Connect and Join's founder and president, said. The pages are filled with thanks and appreciation for the troops. "We are overwhelmed by the response from the classrooms of America and from the great teachers who have responded to us," she said.

The project is about 24,000 pages along, and is continuing to grow, Dennis said. Those pages are important because the country needs to keep saying, "Thank you," she added.

But servicemembers aren't the only ones who'll benefit from this project, Dennis said, noting that the students get something from it as well. "I think it gives them a great sense of pride (and) ownership in what they do," she said. "It helps them understand what freedom is and not to take it for granted."

Fifth-grade students at White Oaks Elementary School in Burke, Va., worked today to create more pages to add to the scrapbook. They brainstormed words they could use on their pages -- words like "courage," "bravery," and "freedom." Many students chose a word and broke it down, telling what each letter in the word meant to them.

The pages, a record of the students' appreciation and support of the troops, will be compiled into the "World's Largest, Now Greatest, Scrapbook" and presented to the military during halftime of the Armed Forces Bowl football game in Fort Worth, Texas, on Dec. 23.

The students were proud to have been able to do something for the troops. They also thought the scrapbook would boost the morale of the servicemembers who will see it.

"It feels really good that we're thanking the troops," Emma Puranen, 10, a White Oaks Elementary School fifth grader, said. Her page included sentiments like, "You must be very brave to be in Iraq. People in America are very proud of you and that (servicemembers) should never really forget that," she said.

"It's going to touch their hearts," she added. "They've been away from home for so long and I think it'll (make them) feel really good if they get some messages."

Her beliefs were confirmed when Marine Maj. Matt Morgan surprised the classes by stopping by to collect the pages the students had completed and answer their questions.

"I think any servicemember that's been overseas can tell you that you don't think too much about it," Morgan said. "But then that one day when you're at rock bottom. ... You come back in the squad tent or walk in the chow hall and you see one of these things hanging on the wall, it can mean the world for you."

"It can just turn your whole day around," he said.

Creating the scrapbook was a project that held special meaning to some of the students. Dustin Jutras, 11, lost his brother, a soldier, who died in fighting in Iraq last year. His father and his brother-in-law are both servicemembers.

Dustin he read a letter he'd written to the servicemembers as part of his scrapbook page.

"We are all so proud of you. Only the bravest of our country would fight for freedom and peace, and all of you are heroes," he read. "What you do is wonderful. My brother went to Iraq and was killed doing his job, and I know you are willing to make that sacrifice, and that is brave. Being brave leads you to victory, and I know you'll become victorious."

It was the letters he used to write to his brother that inspired him to write the current one, he said.

One teacher in particular had good reason to be enthusiastic about the project. Marion Fegley, a fifth-grade teacher at White Oaks, comes from a strong military family. One son is a soldier serving in Iraq with the 1st Cavalry Division. The other son is at Fort Benning, Ga., going through Officer Candidate School, and her husband is a retired servicemember.

The scrapbook pages have not only helped her feel as though she's actively supporting her sons and the other servicemembers, but it's provided her a way to use current events as lessons in her classroom. In fact, on the schedule for language arts today was "Troops Letters."

"My classroom has many children who are connected with the military. So we do a lot of projects, and this one was near and dear to our hearts," she said. "We've asked the children to write letters (and) write poems. So they created these beautiful pages, which are going to be part of the world's largest scrapbook."

The thoughts expressed by the children amazed her, she added. "It's true and honest feelings from their hearts," she said.

It was White Oaks Elementary School's Harmony Program that got the students involved with the scrapbook project, said Robert Young, 10, whose cousin is serving in Iraq. Harmony is a program that brings together a small group of students from each of the fifth-grade classes for community service projects.

"This time is was 'The World's Greatest Scrapbook,'" he said. "I think it's great that we could give back to the soldiers, because they've done so much for us," citing defending the country and giving him someone to look up to as examples of what the troops have done for him.

The scrapbook pages are being scanned and will become a permanent part of history as part of the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project, Dennis said. About 500 schools across the country are participating in the project, she added.

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