Students' year-long lesson in patriotism

REED CITY — Memorial Day is one of those spring holidays that everyone looks forward to celebrating. A day off work or school, picnics and parades make the day full of fun with family. However, the deeper meaning of this day is sometimes forgotten.

It’s important to remember that the day is for honoring our veterans. Students at Reed City’s GT Norman Elementary School do a lot throughout the year, thanks to the organization of events by teacher Pam Bloom. Every fall, students participate in a touching Labor Day program.

This year they bought patriotic bracelets to fund the making of a beautiful quilt for a local veteran which they were able to sign. Halloween candy was collected and sent overseas to troops. A total of 26 care packages have been sent this school year with the help of money raised through lollipop sales. For a final project, special paw print charm bracelets and pencils were sold along with suckers to raise funds for an important organization that helps veterans returning home. Bloom tried to explain to students what the organization did, though the best explanation would come from the founder herself in a special assembly.

Jennifer Petre founded Stiggy’s Dogs several years ago in honor of her nephew who was killed in 2009 during his tour in Afghanistan. Benjamin Castiglione was lovingly known as “Doc Stiggy." It was only natural that since he was always taking care of his fellow marines that Petre’s organization would also be providing a much needed service to returning veterans. With the mission statement: “New hope for every veteran. A second chance for every dog," rescue dogs are trained to become psychiatric service dogs for veterans with post traumatic stress disorders and traumatic brain injuries. They help injured veterans to perform daily tasks, such as taking their medications on time.

Petre read a story explaining a service dog's life and also showed photos of dogs and their owners. Veteran Shannon Shafer brought his dog, Iago, to meet everyone and talked about what having a service dog means to him. The school also presented the funds totaling $500 that students raised for Stiggy’s Dogs.

"This is the most patriotic school I have ever been to," said Petre, overwhelmed with emotion.

A few more visitors were invited to this assembly with donations for Stiggy’s Dogs. Barb Graham from Reed City Therapy Dogs brought along Chole and Probe to talk to students about the different service therapy dogs provide. Chole and Probe are just two of the over 200 dogs that have been rescued through their program. They love being pet and lined up for some affection as students left the gym. Members of the AM Vets Riders Chapter 1988 also came to talk to the students about returning veterans with injuries. For a special treat after the assembly they rode their motorbikes around the school.

Singing “God Bless the USA," along with everything they have done throughout the year, students and staff showed all their visitors that they know what it means to honor those who are currently serving in the military, those who have returned home and those who have died.