Bethel Park students write letters to those serving overseas

Published May 19, 2014 at 3:40 pm (Updated May 19, 2014 at 3:40 pm) Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

A group of Bethel Park students are being recognized for bringing smiles to American service members. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

Grace Brueggman, Macy Hall and Natalie Lalama have spent nearly five years supporting service members, their families and veterans of from all eras. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

The trio, who volunteer their time writing letters and emails and sending care packages to those over serving overseas, are students at Bethel Park High School and began their project while students at Independence Middle School. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

Jennifer Makel, a teacher at IMS, initiated a letter writing campaign among her students. The daughter of a Vietnam veteran, Makel said she wanted to make sure that service members got the appreciation and support they deserved. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

Brueggman, Hall and Lalama, “really took it to heart,” and were soon spending their lunch period in Makel’s classroom corresponding with soldiers and Marines. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

“We like hanging out, doing something we enjoy,” Lalama said. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

The students and their classmates started with 10 contacts and have corresponded with close to 150 service members. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

“At first we were just offering general support and then we started to hearing back,” Lalama said. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

Relationships were forged and the students made contact with the soldiers families, and even sent gifts to the young children of a soldier with whom they were corresponding. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

“It’s nice that we can make things easier for them,” said Lalama. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

The group has grown and organizers have gotten friends and relatives engaged in letter writing. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

“I took pencils and paper to a meeting of my robotics group,” said Brueggman. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

Makel’s elementary age daughter and her classmates have even joined in the letter writing efforts. For privacy issues, all correspondence is done through Makel’s address and the teacher proofreads all letters, explained Brueggman. Group members have a list of dos and don’t for correspondence, she added. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

“We emphasis thank you, ask them questions and encourage them to write back,” she said. “I tell them about my robotics team. Anything to make them smile.” Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

The students are also learning from the soldiers, many not much past their own high school years. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

Hall said the soldiers have written to them about the extreme weather conditions where they are stationed. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

The students have incorporated the project into several areas of their every day lives, going trick-or-treating on Halloween and sending the treats to the soldiers. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

They also held a joint sweet 16 birthday party and asked their guests to bring comfort items for the soldiers instead of presents. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

“We didn’t need 80 presents,” said Hall. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

Birthday party guests contributed not only 200 items for care packages, but also $800, which the students used for postage. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

In addition to supporting those currently serving the country, the students have also connected with and recognized veterans of all eras by holding an event on Veterans Day 2013. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

The group entertained the veterans with a program and refreshments. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

“The best part was sitting and talking to them,” said Lalama Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

The students said they intend to continue their project indefinitely and hope to get others to show their appreciation to service members and veterans. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

“Everyone should write a letter,” Hall said. Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

For more information about the project, email"> Created: 20120905 SJJ -->

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