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CAHS Patriots a 501C(3) organization

THE CAHS PATRIOTS RESPOND TO THE CALL AND SUPPORT OUR TROOPS

As a teacher in the public school, I have the opportunity to daily interact with the youth of our nation, the hope for tomorrow. Former President Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” I am committed to the ideals of freedom and love, honor and respect the Red, White and Blue at all times. I discuss the values of freedom with my students and encourage them to promote it whenever they can.


My students have always sent letters, cards and small packages to deployed servicemen and veterans in local facilities, but with the events of September 11, 2001, we committed ourselves to doing more, especially for the deployed. Because of increased security regulations most public support programs were cancelled after 9/11. A student of mine solicited the support of her father's CO so that we were able to support the military in a time of great need. When he provided us with a confirmed date, several students came to my home and baked in excess of 150 dozen cookies that were packaged and airlifted to an ACU-2. With his help, we continued to send cards, letters and small goodies to members of the Navy through January, 2003. We also sent to individuals whose names and addresses were given to us by their friends or relatives. In February and March of 2003, our nation and world were consumed with the unrest in Iraq and talk of war. We knew that there were two very strong opinions about the United States going to war with Iraq, but we did not see this as an opportunity to politicize. Because of the talk of war I questioned my students about what they could do to make a difference. I firmly believe that history must never repeat itself with regard to the treatment of our military.  No one should ever be made feel the way the Korean and Vietnam Veterans were made feel when they returned home.  It was decided that we would show our support for the men and women in uniform, especially those deployed around the world, with a large scale letter and care package campaign. As more troops were deployed and war was declared, we knew that we had a great task before us.


The group, made up of student volunteers, known at that time as “Support the Troops,” researched the things that were needed and wanted, compiled a list, and began an all out campaign within the school, the school district and the Connellsville area soliciting support, both financial and material, to prepare care packages for shipment. From that moment to the present, we have dedicated ourselves to supporting deployed members of the military. On April 16, 2003, just a little over three weeks after we began our efforts, we held a Red, White and Blue Rally in our auditorium as a tribute to the military, past, present and future. Representatives from all branches of the military were present, as were several veterans, political dignitaries and school officials. At that time 500 packages valued in excess of $20,000 were presented. With the help of a local family readiness group and the Connellsville Elks, we were able to ship these packages to various places throughout the world. At that time we received a citation from the Senate of Pennsylvania for our dedication to our servicemen/women.


In August, 2003 when school resumed, we reactivated our group and continued to send letters and packages to Iraq. At that time we had two main contacts: Lt. Col. Greg Ritch (464 CM Bde) and Captain Donald Reese (372 MP). We continued to ship packages to these two units until they returned mid-2004. At that time, Major Shane Ousey (31st Signal Company, the 54 th Signal Battalion, and the Multi-National Force - Iraq) became our contact and we shipped packages on a regular basis to him to share with these units. In November, 2004 the unit from Connellsville (B Company 1st Battalion 103rd Armor) was deployed. That Christmas we were able to ship a total of 350 packages to these units. In 2005 we supported a unit through Captain Stephen Heinz (A Co. 70th Engineers) and a local unit (HHC 1-110 at Camp Habbaniyah) through Joe Lape. For Christmas 2005 we shipped 445 packages to these units and the individual names on our list. For Christmas 2006 we supported several individuals and three units by sending over 350 packages. Those four units were very special because four graduates from CAHS, Russell Coughenour, Andrew Junk, Jaison Pisczek, and David Kelm were our contact persons. All Christmas packages included a t-shirt that the group designed specifically for the troops. It is white with royal blue lettering, the school colors, and reads “CONNELLSVILLE FALCONS REMEMBER OUR SOLDIERS.”


In addition to shipping packages to deployed service men and women, we support veterans by sending cards and letters to the VA hospital in Pittsburgh, and collecting toiletries, clothing and food items for the residents at the VA home in Hollidaysburg , PA. We have personally delivered and arranged for several deliveries to this institution since the summer of 2004. When we learned of three local soldiers being wounded in Iraq, we began a school-wide letter/card campaign for them. When they returned to the United States, we sent $200 to each of them to help with the expenses of incidentals that accrue during hospital confinement. We also volunteered to help with chores around their homes. Because the local unit was hit with such a substantial loss, we bought several CD's and snacks and sent them so that they might enjoy a few hours of rest and relaxation. A few months later we were notified of another wounded soldier who had returned to the area for treatment, and we supported this man and his family in the same manner that we did the others. In 2006 our community was touched by the loss of SPC Shelby Feniello, a graduate of CAHS. We immediately established a temporary memorial honoring this young man until a permanent memorial could be established.


To show our appreciation and recognition of every man and woman we have contact with or whose name we have received, we prepared military insignias for each and these are displayed on the bulkhead around the entire first floor of the Connellsville Area Senior High School.


Time has passed since the beginning of the war, and many people have adopted the “out of sight out of mind” philosophy; therefore, their interest has waned. Our group remains committed to supporting our servicemen/women. To date we have shipped 6141 packages valued at $280,000. This project is ongoing and will continue until all deployed men and women serving in the Armed Forces have returned home.


Our fundraising efforts include(d) raffles, selling merchandise at local festivals, support drives within the school district and community, a “Proud to be an American” campaign, an organized tag day, collecting at home football games, and an Annual Collectible/Celebrity Auction. The “Proud to be an American” campaign began within the High School. Students purchase patriotic signs for $1.00. Their names are put on these, and they are displayed on the first floor of the high school. This is our third year for this project within the school. In the fall of 2005 community businesses were asked to participate. For a donation of $25.00 or more, a “Proud to be an American” banner acknowledging the business/organization was prepared and displayed in the foyer of the school under “Community Patrons Support CAHS and the Troops.” Their support is constantly being acknowledged and recognized by all who enter our building. In the summer of 2009 we help a community drive and blanketed the local storefronts with these banners from June 14th to July 4th.  A similar drive took place for Veterans’ Day 2010.


The idea for the Collectible/Celebrity Auction originated in January, 2005 when we were looking for a way to generate a large sum of money in order to keep our project going since the value/cost of the average shipment was in excess of $15,000. We were at a place in time where more and more men and women from our area were being deployed. The student officers wrote letters to over 1200 celebrities, musicians, athletes, actors/actresses, political officials and sports teams. They solicited autographed items that could be auctioned off. They then solicited local businesses for items to be included in this auction. On Sunday, May 29, 2005 approximately 100 people gathered at the Connellsville Elks #503 located at 140 East Crawford Avenue, Connellsville, to bid on over 250 items donated by celebrities and local businesses. The event garnered a great deal of local support and raised $7,000 which was used for the packages mailed in November 2005. The second annual auction was held on Sunday, May 28, 2006 at the Elks in Connellsville and raised $11,555. The third auction was held on May 3, 2007 and raised $12,500. The fourth auction was held on May 8th, 2008 and raised $12,750. The fifth auction was held on May 7, 2009 and raised $12,850; the sixth was held on May 6th 2010 and raised $13, 000.  Current plans are underway for the 2011 auction on May 5th!


Our efforts caught the attention of a Fox News producer in October, 2005. She, along with Rick Leventhal, visited the school, watched the process of shopping, sorting, preparing and mailing packages, and interviewed the students. Rick Leventhal spent nine weeks in Kuwait and Iraq, embedded with the United States Marine Corps' 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion and the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, covering Operation Iraqi Freedom at the onset of the war. Rick posted a blog entitled “A True Patriot” on the Fox News website about the group under the leadership of Linda Shearer.


The Fox News coverage was included in a documentary that was aired on Christmas Day, 2004, entitled “A Christmas Tribute to the Troops.” Our website www.cahspatriots.com is a result of that documentary and peoples' interest in learning more about the group and its activities. Information about the auction, items needed, support and contact is available to all who visit the site. The creator of the site is a student who graduated in June 2005.  He along with former student volunteers have stepped up and volunteer their time and talent to help keep the site updated.


The website is one way we can inform the public about our group and its activities. The group's mission statement is: “The C.A.H.S. Patriots, comprised of students, educators, parents and community, emphasize promoting patriotism throughout the school and community while providing care packages to deployed servicemen/women. In doing so they demonstrate respect, pride and appreciation for the ideals of freedom and democracy and create an atmosphere where others learn to appreciate and display love and respect for these ideals.” It is important to note that the group has an average membership of 25 students and three adults. With each year, seniors graduate and move on while sophomores move in to take their places. Our efforts came full circle in January 2007, when we received a letter from a soldier in Iraq. He wrote, “Hey guys, thanks for the packages. My unit greatly appreciated all of them. Miss Shearer is an awesome teacher, and an even better person with great heart!!! All the support from the high school I graduated from is awesome and a great feeling!! It is crazy how just a couple years ago I was helping fill these packages, and now I am receiving them. Keep up the great work, and fly high Falcons.” How totally overwhelming it was to receive this email. It brought back the countless hours that this young man helped with filling those first 500 packages.


The group has received hundreds of emails and letters from men and women who received packages. We have also received certificates of recognition from commanding officers, military units, the American Legion, the Senate of Pennsylvania, and last year a letter from the President of the United States commending us for our efforts. After the Fox News documentary, the group received a total of $2,000 in donations from eight different states.


Freedom matters to everyone everywhere. It is so easy to sit back and criticize the things that are happening in the world; however, it takes more effort to do something to make the world a better place. Members of our military have answered a call to protect and defend freedom. Those deployed to some of the harshest places on earth often feel isolated, unsupported and unappreciated, and don't have the toiletries, snacks and luxuries that make life in these harsh environments better. Our purpose is to show them that we care. Former President Reagan also said, “Putting people first has always been America’s secret weapon. It's the way we've kept the spirit of our revolutions alive -- a spirit that drives us to dream and dare, and take great risks for a greater good.” The members of the CAHS Patriots are working for a greater good. Ultimately this war will be judged through the years when the pages are written in the next generation's history books. Not all of us will be there to read the final evaluation, but we will know that we made life a little better for those who were there. We've been told more than once that each package is shared with two or three other people. We've also been told that our servicemen go packing, carrying toys and candy in their pockets, so they can show the children of these areas that there is goodness in the world. Of the 6141 packages we can only imagine the tens of thousands of lives that have been touched. Until every deployed serviceperson has come home, we will continue to send goodies and smiles. The number of people affected by the CAHS Patriots is countless!


The students will continue to acquire names and addresses of those serving in the military. On a regular basis, approximately five times a year including the major holidays, they will write letters and take what money they have and go shopping. The stash is then sorted and prepared for packages. They create an assembly line and fill all packages until they have nothing more to package. Custom forms and address labels are prepared and packages are taken to the local Post Office to begin their route to the deployed overseas. As noted before, the units change with each passing year, but we always have units to work with. We will continue to support the veterans in local hospitals and homes. When tragedy touches individuals serving, or their families, we will support them as we have in the past.


The group has also undertaken a project to honor the veterans of our community. As there is no formal memorial in our city, we decided to create an electronic veterans' memorial. That site is accessible at www.connellsvilleareaveterans.com  We are currently soliciting information via the media, local newspapers, radio, and television channel from those who attended or graduated from the Connellsville Area School District, the Connellsville Joint School District and the Dunbar Township School District. We are asking that people send us the names of those who served, the years they attended school in our area, their branch of service and years served, information regarding deployment including: where and duties during, and any special recognition that they received. We will also accept pictures and other things that the veterans and their families would like to include. There are currently more than 60 local Veterans listed with more to be added daily.


In November, 2007 we renovated the existing Veterans' Memorial in front of our high school. Students at the Career and Technical Center cleaned and repointed the structure. Local contributors paid for the landscaping, paving, flagpoles and three bronze plaques honoring three CAHS grades who gave their lives while serving this nation. EM Timothy Bollibon of the class of 1986 gave his life during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. GM3 Heath Stillwagon of the class of 1987 gave his life aboard the USS Iowa in 1989. PFC Shelby Feniello of the class of 1999 gave his life during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Four bronze plaques will be added in November, 2008 for Viet Nam veterans: SGT Earl D. Barkley of class of 1968 gave his live during Vietnam Conflict in 1971. SP4 Francis Addis of the class of 1968 gave his life during the Vietnam Conflict in 1970. PFC Lawrence Eans of the class of 1967 gave his live during the Vietnam Conflict in 1968. SN Robert “Jumbo” Miller of the class of 1968 died in 1969 while assigned to the USS Forrestal. SPC William Cable of the class of 1994 gave his life while in service during the Global War on Terror in 2008.  On February 10, 2011 the group received a piece of World Trade Center steel that will be incorporated in upcoming renovations at the High School.  They were one of 1100 entities from all 50 states and six foreign countries to be selected to receive an artifact.  Members of the Board of Directors, School Board members and local media traveled to JFK International to acquire this artifact.  John Morrow of Pleasant Trucking graciously donated a truck and driver to bring this back to Connellsville.  The artifact is 180” high, 66” wide, 8” thick and weighs 8370 lbs.  Nelson Bus Lines donated a coach bus to transport the group, and Bob Kelly of All Crane Rental of Pennsylvania out of Elizabeth, PA provided a crane to lift the artifact into its temporary storage until the renovations are complete.  Mayor Charles Matthews of Connellsville arranged a welcome parade on Friday, February 11, 2011 so that the students at the Connellsville Area Senior High School could receive this.

The CAHS Patriots were approved as an official clearinghouse for the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. Volunteers are recognized for the hours of service. On Thursday November 8, 2007 46 volunteers received Presidential Volunteer Service Awards from Col. Greg Ritch. They are: Mark Barbrow, Bryce Beeghley, Cody Boors, Maribeth Bradley, Katie Brown, Stephanie Brown, Steve Burns, Sarah Chess, A.C. Childress, Mara Colamartino, Stacey Domer, Renee Durst, Alyssa Dye, Lacey Etling, Bill Eutsey, Adam Faris, Sandra Fee, Kolby Fox, Dennis Geary, Tammy Gratchic, Tiffany Gratchic, Angie Hall, George Jones, Mike Krzanowski, Ashley Kuzyck, David Lambie, Lori Lambie, Stacie Lambie, Ashlee Leeper, Brent Lint, Chad Lint, Monika Martin, Matt May, Robert McLuckey, Elise Michaux, Loralynn Mickey, Megan Nicholson, Julie Porterfield, Abby Richter, Heidi Ridgway, Ian Sage, Linda Shearer, Roger Thompson, Alex Tinker, Kaylan Trimboli, Brittany Washington and Mallory White. On Thursday May 8 th two additional bronze Presidential Volunteer Service Awards were presented to the Connellsville Elks # 507 and Glassburn Auction Associates. In May 2009 these people also received awards: Nicole Cumberland, Rebekah Greenawalt, Trisha Hamborsky, Zach McGinnis, Rachel Miller, Tara Moyer, Beth Porterfield, Mike Potter, Jenna Reese, Taylor Stutzman, Danielle Thomas.  In May 2010 additional awards were presented to Kasey Anderson, Michelle Basinger, Andrew Beal, John Beal, Courtney Blocker, Jenna Brewer, Elizabeth Butt, Shane Daugherty, Jolene Domaracki, Amanda Duchek, Shelby Geary, Nicole Grindle, Lyndsy Grinko, Katelyn Heinbaugh, Shelby Kerns, Anthony Lembo, Tyler Meader, Jamie Mitchell, Casey Nicholson, Ashleigh Peck, Jessie Ross, Jon Smart, Amanda Snyder, Kendra Stansak, Devon Tressler, Justin Uhrinek, Steven Walker, Bryan, Shelly and Kayla Hann, Sue Harvey, Mark Bageant and Gary Wandel.  You can learn more about this by visiting http://www.presidentialserviceawards.gov Please contact the sponsor at lshearer@casdfalcons.org if you would like to know more about how to volunteer or be recognized for your volunteer service.


The group now sponsors an annual Veterans breakfast and program around the time of Veterans’ Day for local veterans. The attendance has nearly doubled each year. In 2008 with the help of Senator Richard Kasunic, citations were presented to the WWII Veterans for their service to this great nation. Attendance increases with each passing year.


On July 31, 2008, the group became incorporated in order to guarantee their continuation.  In November 2009 they became a 501C(3) organization, or a federally recognized charity and all donations made to the group are tax deductible.