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Making a Difference for Valued Veterans

SkillsUSA Pennsylvania students experience the power and pride of service while providing yearlong assistance for local veterans in need.
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Photo provided by Reading-Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center.

SkillsUSA students from Reading, Pa., learned valuable lessons about serving others when they connected with a local organization called “Veterans Making a Difference” for their annual community service project.

Founded by Doug and Liz Graybill, Veterans Making a Difference offers “hand-ups” to area veterans in need. With the help of an army of volunteers, the organization delivers everything from food to sleeping bags while also taking the time to simply provide encouragement, a kind word and an attentive ear.

Veterans Making a Difference founders Doug and Liz Graybill. Photo provided by Reading-Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center.

During a September brainstorming session designed to choose a service project for the year, SkillsUSA students at Reading-Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center (RMCTC) landed on Veterans Making a Difference as their first choice. Three students — Barbara Acevedo, Amelia Taveras and Mia Perez — stepped up to take the lead, and the planning began.

The students surveyed their school in December to gauge interest in participating. They decided to begin with a food drive, and by January, staff and students from RMCTC collected over 300 cans and boxes of food for the Veteran Social Center, part of the Veterans Making a Difference organization.

In February, the students packed lunches for the vets. This was a joint effort between the RMCTC staff, the FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) culinary chapter and SkillsUSA members. The group collected food items and prepared lunches in the culinary classroom under the watchful eyes of Chef Potteiger, Chef Klein and other culinary students. The lunches were then delivered to the social center.

In February and March, students and faculty members made two breakfasts at the center, including waffles and toppings, pancakes, sausages, juice and more. After making and serving breakfast, the students sat and talked with the veterans while the teachers finished up. The students said what they enjoyed most about the experience was seeing the veterans filter in and talk while eating breakfast.

Next, the SkillsUSA students started a collection of personal items for the veterans. Contributions like dish and laundry detergent, toothpaste and razors were dropped in a collection box inside the school, and nearly 425 items were collected, including gift cards from local businesses.

The students gained as much as they gave. “I enjoy helping the vets, because I’m grateful for what they have done for our country and our freedom,” says Amelia Taveras. “They fought for us. Now it is time we fight for them,” adds Barbara Acevedo. “When it comes to helping our veterans, I am overjoyed. It is wonderful to witness how something as basic as breakfast can bring a smile to their faces,” Mia Perez chimes in.

“Having students doing community service with veterans is a great experience for them,” says SkillsUSA advisor Linda Sayer. “The collection of food and personal items gives the students a way to thank the veterans for their valuable service to us.”

“These veterans served our country and protected our freedoms,” adds SkillsUSA advisor and RMCTC work-based learning coordinator Lisa Hughes. “I hope our service inspires others to serve.”

“The smiles on their faces [the veterans] say it all for me,” says SkillsUSA advisor Dee Gonzalez. 

The project culminated with the community service team creating a 30-page booklet documenting their efforts and submitting it to the SkillsUSA Pennsylvania State Leadership & Skills Conference. The result? A gold medal in the Community Service career competition and a trip to Atlanta to compete at the SkillsUSA Championships, part of SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference this June.

But the honors don’t end there. “The icing on the cake is that we’ve just recently been asked by our state senator Judy Schwank to come to the Veterans Expo at Alvernia University to receive an award for our service,” says Hughes. “But I would be remiss if I didn’t say that it is Doug and Liz Graybill who truly deserve an award.” To learn more about Veterans Making a Difference, check out their Facebook page.

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