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CHS Shows Troops They Care Through Letters

January 16, 2011 by John Rook

Cheshire High School student Alexis Ouellette was watching the news one night when a report came on about soldiers serving in war zones overseas. It was an emotional story that brought home just how much these troops have sacrificed for their country, and it got Ouellette thinking.
“There had to be more recognition paid to them,” she said. “So, I thought about what I could do. I thought about what we could do, as a school, to show that we appreciate them.”
Ouellette employed the help of Anthony Tyson, who was eager to assist in any way possible when it came to the soldiers.
“When Alexis first came to me, she was asking about maybe starting a club,” remembered Tyson. “I talked to Mr. (Ralph) Zingarella (head of the CHS Social Studies Department) because he knows a lot of veterans and asked what he thought.”
Those initial discussions led to a school-wide campaign to do something simple yet effective in offering the high school's support — writing letters.
Around the holiday season, several clubs hold drives for different causes, from food drives to help the hungry to clothing drives to assist those looking to collect basic winter apparel. Ouellette and Tyson thought something of that nature would be perfect for them but, instead of food or clothing, why not make something a little more personal.
“Writing a letter is the most basic thing you can do,” said Ouellette. “It is something that lets the troops know how we feel and that we appreciate them.”
CHS teacher Shannon Plank has worked with the organization, Give 2 The Troops, in the past and, this year, helped raise care packages for soldiers again. When Zingarella mentioned what Ouellette and Tyson were interested in doing, Plank arranged to have the letters sent through the organization, which lays out guidelines for letter writing.
The goal was certainly ambitious: to get every student, at every grade level, to write a letter.
“We thought that if we got everyone involved, it would make for a bigger impact,” said Ouellette.
The word was spread throughout the school beginning in October and the response was overwhelming, Tyson admitted.
“I really didn't have any doubt we would get that kind of participation,” he said. “Everyone in our school supports the troops and I think everyone wanted to do something to show them that.”
Coming up with the idea, and encouraging other to write the letters was only half the battle for Ouellette and Tyson. While there was no template to follow for the letters, guidelines were laid out for each student as to what was and was not acceptable.
Aside from the obvious requirements that students refrain from crude language or inappropriate references, they were also asked not to include their personal e-mail addresses or social network page sites in the body of the letters. Also, students were asked not to divulge the names of any family members so as to avoid any possible problems in the future.
It was also asked that overt religious or political references be avoided, and that the tone of the letter not threaten to make soldiers too nostalgic for home, such as saying things like “it must be so tough not being home for the holidays.”
To ensure that each letter met with those standards, Tyson and Ouellette were required to go through each one for final approval.
“That is going to be fun,” said Ouellette, facetiously, as she admitted that the idea of going through nearly 2,000 letters was daunting. “We have to make sure they will be appropriate, though.”
All of the letters were required to be approved and ready for transport on December 2, 2010, and, on that day, the letters were transported, along with care packages, to Give 2 The Troops representatives, with the hope that all would be delivered in time for Christmas.
For Ouellette and Tyson, getting the program started, and seeing it through, required a lot of work, but each admitted that it was worth it.
“It's great that we can bring them this kind of support,” he said. “I know they must miss (being home) and to be able to help in any way is great.”
“This is the least we can do for them,” added Ouellette. “They need our appreciation, and this is one way we could show it to them as a school.”

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