Students’ empathy rewarded

Students proud wear their We Support our Troops pin given to them at a special occasion in their classroom

On Tuesday

On Tuesday

After a presentation to Kersley

elementary school’s Grade 4/5

class by Terry Nichols, co-founder

of Communities for Veterans

Foundation, on contemporary

veterans and the challenges they

face assimilating into civilian life

after retiring and the lingering

consequences of their military

service, students and their teacher

had a discussion on what they

had learned and how they could

help.

The presentation foundation

was the book Terry had written

called My Sheep Story and how

military personnel often return to

civilian life with post traumatic

stress disorder. The condition

is always diagnosed and life for

these veterans is difficult, but

with the help of their community,

their family and readily available

medical services these challenges

can be overcome. Too often

though, all these essential pieces

are not in place and the veteran

struggles.

In their discussions, the Grade

4/5 students thought writing letters

to veterans, expressing appreciation

and respect for their

service. The 22 students each

wrote a letter and 50 copies were

distributed to veterans during the

Christmas season, some travelled

as far away as Vancouver.

One of the letters was received

by a 20-year veteran of the US

Army who now lives in Delta,

B.C. who was so moved by the

sincerity and understanding expressed

by the student she agreed

to speak with the students about

her experience and what she continues

to experience as a result of

military service.

“The veteran was at a low point

when she unexpectedly read one

of my students letters and it has

triggered this profound need to

connect with the kids and share

her challenges and let them

know their actions, no matter

how small, make a difference,”

Sarah Guest, Kersley Grade 4/5

teacher said.

“She said she feels like she has

purpose for the first time in a

very long time.”

In anticipation of the Face-

Time event, the students worked

hard to come up with thoughtful

questions and the discussion was

a huge success. On Tuesday, four

veterans took time out of their

busy day to come to Kersley school

and speak with the students about

their own military service, answer

questions by the students and present

them with special We support

our groups pins.

Paul Nichols, contemporary

Canadian veteran and co-founder

of Communities for Veterans

Foundation (CVF), Jim Spencer,

Quesnel Legion president and

Canadian veteran, Fred Richardson

and Ron Rosell, also

Canadian veterans, encouraged

the students to ask any questions

they wanted and then answered

them with candour, honesty and

a bit of humour.

When asked what motivated

them to join the Armed Forces

each had a different reason.

Paul remarked his family has a

long history of military service

and he grew up around the military,

so after high school he saw

enlistment as an exciting career

option. After six years of service,

he was deployed to the Balkans

and he felt this was an opportunity

to help people in conflict.

“We have it so good in Canada,”

he said.

For Jim he was an active Air

Cadet and that provided some

military training, however possibly

the most influential reason

for enlisting was his many vacations

at his grandmother’s home

situated at the end of the military

runway in St. Hebert, Quebec

where he watched in fascination

as military jets took off and landed

so close.

“I served 25 years and learned a

trade and was very happy serving

in the military,” he said.

“But I initially joined because

I never finished high school and

my options were limited.”

Fred also came from a military

family and it was natural that he

joined the navy.

For Ron he came from working

in the oil fields and enlisted in

the navy as well.

“I had a good career and was

able to get a good education

thanks to the military,” he said.

“With skills and drive, you can

get anywhere you want.”

Jim added young Canadians

need to realize Canada is a free

country and the military service

of Canadians men and women

keeps us free.

Paul also said Canadians have

won the lottery in terms of freedom

and security and we have

an obligation to help those who

don’t enjoy those freedoms and

security. “The military is sort of

life global policing,” he said.

Jim went on to say that Canadians

have earned respect around

the world for our military service.

The students asked the veterans

what they wanted to be as

children.

For Jim he was hoping to become

a professional football

player, but failure to finish high

school put an end to that dream.

For Paul he claimed he always

wanted to be a cowboy and a

soldier. For Fred he dreamed

of becoming an orchardist but

joined the navy instead. And

Ron trained as a hockey player

but didn’t make the grade. The

students asked about hobbies,

their view on violent video games

and toy guns and an especially

poignant question about their

favourite quote.

Paul told a short story about a

town in Bosnia where the ravages

of war were particularly evident,

but writing, in Cyrillic (the written

language of Eastern Europe)

caught his eye.

When he was finally able to have it translated it meant

“who keeps the keepers.”

The question came up as to how people can help those

facing challenges and Paul spoke about a certain veteran

who has attended their Equine Assisted Mindfullness program

in 2016.

The vet wanted to talk so Paul put aside what he was doing,

sat down on a hay bale and spent the next hour texting back

and forth with him.

Ron summed up, for him, how best to help others face

challenges.

“Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”

Each of the four veterans distributed the We support our

groups pins and thanked the students for their letters to

veterans.

As for what’s next for this very motivated Grade 4/5 class,

they are looking at options through CVF, and the Legion

to raise awareness of the challenges facing contemporary

veterans and finding ways to help a vet in need.

Two students spoke about how this experience had affected

them. Wyatt said after Terry Nichols presentation

he thought a lot about CVF and they are connecting with

Canadians and promoting an understanding of their service

and showing we care.

“In my letter I said how I understand the freedoms I have,

I can ride my bike and play without fear,” he said.

Brooklyn said at the conclusion of Terry’s presentation she

immediately understood this was a serious topic.

“We needed to help others, we’re all connected and need

to lend a hand to those in need,” she said.

“People who served (in the military) realized its a good

thing to help other people. I knew our letters were going to

mean something so I needed my letter to be meaningful. I

wanted them to know I think they are very brave.

After the students Facetimed with the veteran in Delta

who had received Brooklyn’s letter, she was amazed how

one letter could change someone else’s life.

“I was very thankful that my letter changed her life when she

had changed so many others’ lives with her military service.”