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)

A group of Bethel Park students are being recognized for bringing smiles to American service members.

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

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.

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.

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.

“We like hanging out, doing something we enjoy,” Lalama said.

The students and their classmates started with 10 contacts and have corresponded with close to 150 service members.

“At first we were just offering general support and then we started to hearing back,” Lalama said.

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.

“It’s nice that we can make things easier for them,” said Lalama.

The group has grown and organizers have gotten friends and relatives engaged in letter writing.

“I took pencils and paper to a meeting of my robotics group,” said Brueggman.

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.

“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.”

The students are also learning from the soldiers, many not much past their own high school years.

Hall said the soldiers have written to them about the extreme weather conditions where they are stationed.

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.

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

“We didn’t need 80 presents,” said Hall.

Birthday party guests contributed not only 200 items for care packages, but also $800, which the students used for postage.

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.

The group entertained the veterans with a program and refreshments.

“The best part was sitting and talking to them,” said Lalama

The students said they intend to continue their project indefinitely and hope to get others to show their appreciation to service members and veterans.

“Everyone should write a letter,” Hall said.

For more information about the project, email imsbringasmile@gmail.com.

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