Raising the Light: A little means a lot to local veterans

OBSERVER Photo by Amanda Dedie. Student Cecelia Strang, left, presents a thank-you card and handmade magnet to Steve Crane, a local veteran who served in Germany and Greece in the U.S. Army from 1972-74.

It’s important to note that veterans should be remembered, revered and respected on more than just Veterans Day.

The students at Northern Chautauqua Catholic School in Dunkirk have taken it a step further by including the local veteran community in its Veterans Initiative, a mini-grant provided by “Raising the Light,” a multi-faceted project funded by the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

On a monthly basis, students create cards and make crafts for veterans who have appointments at the Dunkirk VA Health Clinic. They also collect items to send to veterans, while learning the significance of why that item was chosen.

For example, students learned that during the Revolutionary War, many soldiers suffered from frostbite because their socks were worn straight through. This prompted students to collect white crew socks in remembrance of the hardships veterans have faced while in active service.

This month, students are making magnets to send out, painting a number of shapes during their religion session in school, as the project promotes faith formation in all stakeholders and ties in with their learning.

Recently, local veteran and NCCS alumnus Steve Crane visited the school to see the students at work. Crane served in the U.S. Army from 1972-74 in Germany and Greece.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Crane said of the project. “We went a lot of years without any recognition. When I got out … they never did too much for me. … You never heard of a Memorial Day parade, they never had too much …”

Student Cecelia Strang presented a card and magnet to Crane, thanking him for his service. She states the project struck a personal chord with her, as her grandfather was a veteran, and is even buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The project means a lot to many, as proven by the number of thank-you cards the district receives. The students’ hearts were touched by one veteran in particular, who doesn’t have any living or surrounding relatives, and states that he, a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was envious of the other veterans who received artwork from their children and grandchildren.

“He really feels now like he’s part of a community,” said Elizabeth Quattrone, board of trustees member.

The “Raising the Light” project keeps students busy with numerous mini-grants that they themselves create, such as the Mitten Tree, where a tree in the school lobby was covered with multi-colored mittens, gloves and hats in all different sizes that were collected by the students and staff to distribute to those in need through local parishes; the Empty Bowls for the Hungry, where they created bowls themselves to distribute; and Operation Canine, where second- and third-graders will be weaving blankets for dogs at the local shelters. The project has also provided new textbooks to students and helped implement a lending library for local religious education programs.