A soldier’s valentine
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Students at Graham Mesa Elementary School in Rifle were busy making cards out of construction paper and glitter last week, while others wrote letters in the spirit of Valentine’s Day.
In Tyler Cronkite’s third-grade class, 8-year-old Karen Vigil worked intently on her card made out of red construction paper cut into the shape of a heart.
Inside the message read: “Dear Keith Paulsen, I hope you have a good Valentine’s Day.”
Paulsen is a soldier enlisted in the Army and stationed in Shindand, Afghanistan.
“We are all writing to Keith Paulsen,” Karen said about her classmates. In fact, Mr. Cronkite’s class was writing to three soldiers specifically, which the class has adopted for the school year. But that is just the beginning of this story.
In all, the entire school has adopted all 52 soldiers in Paulsen’s unit to write letters and send care packages to. The school also adopted Special Education teacher Kristy Slife’s brother, Matthew Petree, who is enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps. Kristy and Matthew’s mother, Debbie Petree, also works at the school.
The community service project was proposed by Graham Mesa’s attendance secretary, Monica Goldstein.
“I know how it feels when your loved ones are gone,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein knows first hand because her son-in-law, Pfc. Gabriel Ramirez, is currently stationed in Afghanistan with the unit the school adopted.
“Just being away from their family, it’s hard,” Goldstein said. “It’s really hard on both sides, not just the soldiers.”
“We thought that it was good for the kiddos, too, as far as them being able to share a part of them and a part of Rifle to the soldiers,” she added.
It’s a project that really has the entire school excited just about being involved.
“I love to see how our students come together,” said Graham Mesa Elementary School librarian Lisa Zeman. “Their hearts are just so filled with love and compassion when they are working on these projects.”
For third-grade teacher Erik Jacobsen, an Army Veteran himself who still has friends enlisted in the military, it’s a very touching gesture that hits very close to home.
Jacobsen was discharged from the military in 2003, and has been a teacher with the Garfield School District Re-2 for five years. He was excited watching the students of his class make Valentine’s Day cards for their adopted soldiers, because he remembered exactly what it was like to get a gift, even as simple as a hand-written letter from a third-grade student, and what it means to a soldier.
“It was valued by the guys overseas to receive these packages,” Jacobsen said. “It always meant a lot.”
The Graham Mesa students and staff began sending packages in October. Since then, they’ve managed to send packages for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and now Valentine’s Day.
Each classroom has adopted two or three soldiers for students to write to each time, so they build a connection with the soldiers, according to Zeman. The school has also put up a bulletin board in the school’s cafeteria, near the library entrance, with photos of some of the soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.
“It helps make a connection and shows [students] what life is like there,” Zeman said. “It makes it more real for them.”
The Valentine’s Day cards will be packaged with other items and shipped to the soldiers this week. The community has also pitched in and donated items such as socks, toothbrushes and magazines. But funds to cover shipping costs are running thin. That is where the community has helped out.
Zeman said that parents, the Parent Teacher Association, and the school’s general fund have contributed to help cover expenses. Every little bit will help send more packages.
“[Monica] will find a way to keep this going,” Zeman said. “Her heart is so big and she really enjoys doing it.”
She keeps doing it because she knows what it means to the students, and the soldiers.
“[The soldiers] were very touched the first time they received the gifts,” Goldstein said. “My son-in-law couldn’t believe that the community had done this for him and the other soldiers.”
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