JoLane Middle School student Marin Gray recently won $1,000 in the VFW Patriot’s Pen statewide essay contest, and the Oregon 13-year-old’s first instinct was to give something back to veterans. So Gray created her own essay contest by inviting local middle school students to explain why they’re grateful for local military veterans who fought to protect their freedoms, The News-Review reports.
A total of 26 students submitted essays, which were judged by Roseburg High School Principal Jill Weber and local veteran Neil Hummel. The top five finishers were invited to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Patrick W. Kelley Post 2468 in Roseburg to read their work to veterans in person this month.
Geneva Academy student Jonathon Jacobsen took home the top prize and $100. His essay pointed to how soldiers “have protected us from many dangers that might have befallen us,” from the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan.
“Because of them we are unscathed and living in peace,” he wrote. “Those that have completed their service deserve respect from us all.”
Gray also read “America’s Gift to My Generation,” her Patriot’s Pen essay, which focused on how soldiers paid the ultimate price for upholding America’s ideals. Sacrificing for what’s right, she wrote, is an American tradition dating back to the Revolutionary War. “Unpaid and unfed, this nation’s first soldiers fought because they believed that the choir of ‘We the People’ held more power to influence our destiny than the voice of a king,” Gray said.
Local vets loved the event.
“I want to thank all the kids, the young people, for just knowing what some of these guys have gone through,” said Bill Johnson, a chaplain who helps vets in recovery.
“When I came back from Vietnam, I didn’t get anything. I got spit on,” Joe Wouters told The News-Review. “These kids are at least welcoming us home.”
Gray’s essay contest is the third event she’s organized over the last two years to help students and others in her community. She organized a Kindle giveaway to Eastwood Elementary School students in December when the library closed. She also created a cultural awareness program last year called Building Respect and Value for Everyone (BRAVE) to bring in presenters from 16 nations to speak to hundreds of local sixth-graders about appreciating different cultures and about bullying, according to the news site.
This story highlights how a service ethos within a school can expand especially as the attitude towards service is expressed in a range of practices and routinized actions. Even mandated community service can create a change in attitude. Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture found that even when “its value was questioned by students and parents, community service was an important part of the school’s moral ecology and an important way to reinforce the school’s ethical mission.” The experience of Marin Gray form the basis of an expanding array of service activities.
Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students can find information and strategies at the UK’s The Jubilee Centre. In The Jubilee Centre’s own words, the following illustrates how the centre views it work. “The Jubilee Centre is a pioneering interdisciplinary research centre on character, virtues and values in the interest of human flourishing. The Centre is a leading informant on policy and practice through its extensive range of projects contributes to a renewal of character virtues in both individuals and society.”