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America Supports You: Students Raise Money for Patients to Phone Home

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

DALE City, Va., Feb. 15, 2005 – Students at Forest Park High School here may have provided the best Valentine of all this year in showing their love for wounded troops.

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Forest Park High School Student Council and Learn and Serve members pose with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld whom they met by surprise in November during one their visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in nearby Washington. Courtesy photo

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On Feb. 14 at the school's cafeteria, members of Learn and Serve, a student- based community service organization, and the Student Council held a spaghetti dinner to raise money for wounded servicemembers at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The students charged $5 or took phone-card donations to get the dinner. They will use the cash proceeds to buy more phone cards for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom amputees recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

When funds were tallied after Monday's dinner the students had raised $1,150 and collected 23 phone cards. Some 200 people showed up for the event.

"Everything went really well," said Patricia Walsh, a teacher at Forest Park, who along with teacher Shannon Geraghty, is a faculty adviser for the two student groups involved in the effort.

Since early February, Student Council and Learn and Serve members have been collecting money to pay for the dinner just about anyway they could, often by asking for donations from students at school.

To advertise their efforts, the students made posters and placed them around the school, Walsh said. The poster featured a photo of the alien from the movie "E.T." with the message "Soldiers Phone Home."

Seniors Ashley Tayon and Caitlin Fahey said it wasn't hard to get students to donate to their cause.

"Everyone we asked wanted to help," Fahey pointed out. "I went to a basketball game the other day and they were trying to raise money for the spaghetti dinner and everyone chipped in a dollar or some change, anything that they had," she said.

At collection drives during school lunch period, Tayon noted, "students would walk by and just throw money in. It's just awesome that everyone was willing to help the soldiers."

The Valentine's Day dinner was not the first time Forest Park students had come to the aid of servicemembers. Walsh said students have visited Walter Reed twice before, their most recent during the Super Bowl.

And during an earlier visit the students posed for pictures with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was also at the medical center to see wounded troops.

Walsh said the students enjoy meeting with wounded soldiers and calls the experience beneficial for them, explaining, "It is important for us to support the troops who are coming back."

"So many servicemembers have protected us, and this is one way in which younger people can give back it those people," she said.

Meanwhile, Walsh said to see students interact with the community at the evening's fund-raiser and to be proud of their work to help servicemembers is her "biggest joy" as a teacher.

"It is so easy to grade a test and give 100 percent, but the more important thing is to see the students give back so freely to the community," she said.

Walsh noted that each year the students try to do something different for servicemembers. In the past they've collected music CDs and movies to send overseas.

She added that her Student Council and Learn and Serve students have "really taken" to helping servicemembers. "It's something they want to do," she noted. "They are always coming up and asking, 'What else can we do?'"

"It's a very good experience for them," she said. "They've actually come to me and said they want to go again and again."

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America Supports You

Click photo for screen-resolution imageStudents Council members serve dinner to one of about 200 who came to Forest Park High School for the group's spaghetti dinner Feb. 14. The students spent Valentine's Day raising money to purchase calling cards for wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLeft to right, Shannon Geraghty, Learn and Serve adviser; Theresa Hooladay, cafeteria worker; and Patricia Walsh, student council adviser, show some of the more than $1,000 raised from a spaghetti dinner at Forest Park High School Feb. 14. The money will be used to buy calling cards for wounded troops recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in nearby Washington. Courtesy photo  
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