By Anna Harris (File Photo)
Students at John Adams Elementary School are spreading holiday cheer among the nation’s military community this year — one card at a time.
Organized by the American Red Cross, Mail for Heroes aims to make the holiday season a bit more festive for past and present military service members. The cards might go to a veteran, hospitalized soldier or active-duty member.
“I just think that it’s an opportunity for the kids to give something back to … the heroes who sacrifice for our country,” said school counselor Michelle Kiernan, who launched the program locally. “Just to spread that word and give them that opportunity.”
Kiernan learned of the program last month. Her interest was piqued at the thought of supplementing the Six Pillars of Character — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, care and citizenship — that John Adams instills in its students.
Shortly thereafter, she started introducing the school to the program.
“I saw the [program] posted and thought, ‘What a wonderful way to put those pillars of character into action,’” Kiernan said.
Students created their cards during art class. And two weeks after launching the initiative, most of the fourth and fifth grade had participated.
“We’ll probably have about 170 [cards sent out], which is a nice number,” Kiernan said shortly before the December 6 deadline. “The cards have to be signed, so the kids take responsibility for what they’re writing down. All around it’s a great project.”
Red Cross collects cards beginning each October. Once that process concludes, the organization sorts and sends the cards where they’ll be most appreciated — to military members and their families.
“[The program] gives a soldier the chance to really benefit from the sincere outpouring of gratitude that the American people feel about their service,” said Teri McCormick, director of volunteer engagement in the national capital region for the American Red Cross.
How did the massive initiative start? Seven years ago, the staff of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center found itself bombarded with cards addressed to “any soldier,” with no means of distributing them and no idea how to go about it. Staff members called the Red Cross and asked if the organization would set up a program to send the letters to specific addresses.
The nonprofit accepted that challenge.
This year the Red Cross is tapping into social media to expand the program’s reach: utilizing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine to spread cheer. Anyone with a smartphone or computer can take a photo or video thanking military members and adding a hashtag.
“People can go to their Instagram account and use #holidaymail, and our blog picks it up,” said McCormick. “We’ll set it up so that [service members] can see an instant stream. If you don’t have Instagram, you can download it, Instagram it and spend 15 seconds telling someone overseas that you’re grateful for their service.”
Given the program’s success at John Adams, Kiernan hopes to continue Mail for Heroes next year. The school got a late start this holiday season, so participating again all but guarantees students will break their card-making record.
“I think it’s been well received, and I can certainly see us going forward with this,” said Kiernan. “Next year we’d be able to start earlier and have even more cards for [soldiers].”