Students of Great Bend High School English instructor Crystal Cross rallied residents to support U.S. troops, by organizing a bicycle/walking fundraiser Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park.
With donations from the patriotic event and by selling T-shirts, students said they’ve already raised $1,800 that will be split between two organizations: Great Bend’s Military Moms and the Freedom Dogs in San Diego, Calif. Area veterans groups were invited Saturday, and veterans received a 21-gun-salute at the conclusion of the event.
In addition to walking or riding several times around the park, people got a look at Jeff Miller’s red, white and blue stock car from Hutchinson. The patriotic race car carries the message "Support the Troops."
The "Not Forgotten" T-shirts designed by students can still be purchased at Identifications in Great Bend, and $5 of the $10 cost will go to the students for their chosen causes, Cross said. Participation bracelets were offered to all who attended Saturday’s event and donated $5, but the bracelets did not arrive on time. Those who want a bracelet can pick one up Thursday or Friday at the high school.
"We encourage people to come see the wall," Cross said, referring to a 36-foot-long banner at the high school, memorializing the servicemen and servicewomen who have died in the Iraq and Afghan wars. This was another project by Cross’s senior English classes, who finished a unit on the wars just before U.S. troops killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks masterminded by Osama bin Laden.
One senior, Halley Richardson, said Saturday’s rally came together as the lessons took on more meaning.
Students were eating military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and reading about issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
"We weren’t even thinking about doing something," Richardson said. "It was just supposed to be a project for a grade, but it has expanded into a lot more." She said students gained an awareness that our troops are still overseas and need public support, and she hopes the rally will raise community awareness as well.
Fellow seniors Erica Stacey and Chasity Farr agreed.
"We are ‘The Class That Cares,’" Farr said, noting the Class of 2011 also won the school-wide challenge to collect the most items for a community food drive this year and last year. "There was a lot of work involved with this project, and a lot of research."
Stacey said research included learning more about the two nonprofit organizations the fundraiser will support. The Military Moms is a local group that sends care packages to soldiers serving in war zones. Freedom Dogs, in San Diego, trains service dogs for wounded members of the military returning home, including those suffering from PTSD.
The school year is almost over, but the students said they’ll also be sending letters and photos of Saturday’s event to GBHS graduate Justin Curtis, who is in Afghanistan.