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Serving Those Who Served

SkillsUSA New Jersey students, teachers and their families rally behind local veterans with a gift donation campaign.
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Photo courtesy of Cumberland County Technical Education Center.

In early December, SkillsUSA members at Cumberland County Technical Education Center (CCTEC) in Vineland, N.J., convened with the purpose of selecting a community service project for their chapter. Because of the impact the pandemic had on senior living facilities, the chapter decided to start a donation campaign for residents of the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Vineland, a facility for veterans, their spouses and “Gold Star” parents (those who’ve lost a son or daughter in active military service).

“The students brainstormed ideas, and I asked the home for ideas of what could be given to the residents,” says Taylor Heaney, SkillsUSA advisor for the chapter. “Together, we came up with a list of items the residents would most appreciate. Since we are a low-income area, we chose items that were low-cost so we would be able to create care packages for all of the 300 residents.”

Once the project was written and approved, students developed and distributed flyers, Not long after, donations started rolling in.

The care packages included jigsaw puzzles, new pens, puzzle books and greeting cards. In addition, students in the carpentry, engineering and welding programs created holiday ornaments and decorations. In all, more than 75 staff members, students and family members donated items.

“It is always wonderful to see a student project like this develop from an idea to a successful execution,” says CCTEC principal Greg McGraw. “I am very proud of our students’ commitment to not only their service project, but to their community.”

According to Heaney, six SkillsUSA students stepped up to take the lead on the project. “Allison Dionisi, Marley Gant, Mikenzie DeCiccio, Alanna Bunting, Andreya Rusnak and Michael Deem, Jr., spent the most time sorting and counting the items into other boxes, volunteering during lunch periods,” he says. “They just showed up when they had time.” These students also wrapped, strung ornaments and helped to create wrap kits (boxes filled with precut wrapping paper, gifts, scissors and tape) so volunteers with limited time could wrap items quickly.

“Making sure that the veterans had a good holiday was important to me, especially with how hard the past year had been for them with the isolation from the pandemic,” says Dionisi, a junior at CCTEC.

After receiving the gifts, a 92-year-old resident from the home sent a note saying, “Thank you very much to all of you for the lovely wooden ornament and the books. It was nice to receive these items for a fun winter surprise.”

I am so proud of our students, staff and the families for their contributions that made all of this possible,” says Heaney. “We set out to collect at least 300 of each item, 900 items total. It was a big task, but everyone rallied to support our local community of veterans. This project was the beginning of an awesome community partnership.”

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