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Honor Their Courage Empowers Young Students to Help Transform Veterans’ Lives

Sixth graders at Galesburg-Augusta Middle School in Augusta, Michigan, pose with a local veteran who is also a substitute teacher at their school. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Hinga)

You don’t have to be in the military to appreciate the service and sacrifice veterans make, or to make a huge impact on a veteran’s life. You don’t even have to be an adult to make a life-changing difference in the lives of warriors and their families.

Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) believes every warrior has a next mission and should never feel alone. One of WWP’s programs, Honor Their Courage, mobilizes the power and passion of America’s youth to help empower warriors in this next mission or next stage of their lives. 

Honor Their Courage is an education and fundraising initiative for schools and educators across the nation. “So far, around 2,500 educators have signed up for the program, which reaches many more students,” said Erika Hatch, WWP Community Fundraising specialist. The program is aimed at students from kindergarten through 12th grade, with flexible lessons designed for all ages.

Three educators – Jeff Donaldson, Jennifer Hinga, and Blakely Norwood – shared how they’re using the Honor Their Courage program to introduce students to what it means to be a veteran and how they can help change a life.

Bringing Awareness to Schools

“One thing I really liked about [Honor Their Courage] was the easy setup,” said Blakely, who teaches orchestra at Clark Intermediate School in Spring, Texas. “I think it's just the simplicity of it that I liked.”

When educators sign up for the Honor Their Courage program, they have access to a variety of educational materials. These include letter-writing to veterans, and word searches and coloring pages for younger students. There's also a military show-and-tell lesson where students can bring in an item from any of their military family members. In addition, there are reading lists that have suggested books, read aloud activities, as well as warrior videos.

WWP provides educators with tools to help students fundraise, including WWP stickers to sell. Jennifer, who teaches sixth grade at Galesburg-Augusta Middle School in Augusta, Michigan, says the messages and activities within the Honor Their Courage program assist students in other life lessons, too.

“It’s helping them with responsibility, because I'm giving them something they have to bring back,” Jennifer said of students keeping track of the sticker sales. “And they do because they care about it. They'll leave their $30 water bottles under their desk. But those stickers have not come up missing. Not one.”

Putting a Face with a Story

Honor Their Courage introduces students to warriors and their family members through a series of videos, as well as a bio that shares more details about the veterans in the videos. The students get to learn about the veteran’s job in the military, how they were injured, what being a veteran means to them, and how they were helped by WWP.

“I’ve had a bunch of teachers say how much they love those videos, and how their students relate to watching and learning about the warriors,” Erika said. “That’s why we did the fact sheet. Because last year, we found out tons of kids wanted to know more about the warrior they watched on the video.”

It also allows the students to connect to the people they’re helping on a deeper level.

“A lot of [my students] are visual learners,” Jeff said. “I can talk about service, I can talk about commitment, but when they finally get to see it being applied in everyday life, it's more relatable to them. Just seeing the impact that it has, I think it’s pretty special.”

Jeff, who teaches fourth grade at Carmichaels Area School District in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, said the Honor Their Courage program fits in perfectly with the curriculum the school is already doing.

“We do another program here that deals with making good choices and citizenship,” Jeff said. “It was awesome how [Honor Their Courage] fit right into that seamlessly, and the students really enjoy it. I was shocked at how into it they get. And they think the short videos are amazing – learning about different values from people who served in the military.”

Putting the Fun in Fundraising

WWP’s Honor Their Courage program offers fundraising suggestions for students, but schools and classes aren’t limited to them. Many students and teachers have come up with their own creative ways to help support warriors.

“It was really cute, because they were trying to think of different ways on their own to raise money,” Jennifer said. “One kid was going to try and whittle the Wounded Warrior Project logo out of wood. They had all these ideas.”

Jennifer also had access to a T-shirt making machine, and further encouraged the students by offering a free T-shirt with the design of their choice to whoever raised the most funds. Their excitement led to their final fundraising project decision. The students would sell T-shirts.

“Our school district is called Galesburg-Augusta, and it's hyphenated as G-A a lot. So, the shirt says, ‘We are G-A,’ with the proud WWP supporter logo under it,” Jennifer said. “I made five or six different options, and they all voted on which style they liked the best.”

Blakely found a way to incorporate the fundraising initiative into the orchestra’s holiday concert on Dec. 7 – which also happens to be National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. The students will perform a special tribute to the World War II heroes from Pearl Harbor, something they’ve been learning about extensively.

“I have students who could probably draw up the battle plan of the Pearl Harbor attack, exactly as it happened,” Blakely said. “There are very few survivors from that horrible attack, and I just want to keep the memory going. That’s one of the things I really wanted to get across.”

However, the overall success of the fundraising activities is largely based on community support, which in many cases has been overwhelming. Jeff’s school is located in a rural, former coal-mining area of Pennsylvania, and last year, he set a fundraising goal of $1,000. They beat that goal by $450.

“I never in a million years thought that we would have that kind of success our first year doing it,” Jeff said. “And it’s not just people here at school or the parents [donating]. So, it's a pretty special thing that is going on right now.”

Sharing Stories of Service

Some students saw the Honor Their Courage program as a segway to share their own stories about veterans they know, which increased their enthusiasm to raise funds to benefit wounded warriors.

“In class, I've had several students talk about their own family members [who are veterans] and what they've done. They are really excited about raising money for Wounded Warrior Project,” Blakely said.

During the week of Veterans Day, Jeff’s school had a special lunch where students could invite a veteran in their lives to come and eat with them.

“The Veterans Day luncheon hits on a whole other level,” Jeff said. “Students can really relate a lot more to it. And I feel like there's a lot more appreciation and gratification there for everything that they've sacrificed for us.”

During another Honor Their Courage lesson, Jeff’s students also wrote thank you letters to veterans. The students who had a veteran attend the lunch were able to give the letter to them. For the others who didn’t have a veteran in attendance, Jeff collected their appreciation letters to deliver to veteran homes in the area.

“They just light up,” Jeff said of the reaction from veterans who received the letters.” I think getting a normal letter on a normal day would be a lot in itself. But the fact that they're getting it as a thank you for their service, it just multiplies it by 100.”

Creating a Connection for Future Generations

Less than 7% of the U.S. population are veterans, and the number has been steadily declining. It’s entirely possible for a student to not know a veteran, but Honor Their Courage is a way for young people to understand the sacrifice service members make, and the pride that goes into it. During focus groups with some teachers in the program, Erika found some educators had classrooms where none of the students had a personal connection to a veteran.

“It was very eye-opening,” Erika said. “If you are not connected to a veteran, it's very easy to not think about this population of people who are voluntarily serving to protect our freedoms. So, it’s even more important for [young people] to know that there are people who served, and who are serving right now, for all of our benefit.”

Blakely wanted to share with his students about not only what a veteran does in the military, but what they often deal with when their time in service ends.

"I had to teach them what Wounded Warrior Project was about,” Blakely said. “[Service members] protect us in other lands. They get wounded, and when they come back, they need help, whether it be physical or mental or just getting on their feet again."

With programs like Honor Their Courage, new generations have the opportunity to help empower warriors and foster the most well-adjusted generation of veterans in U.S. history.

“I am a huge fan of this program,” Jeff said. “I plan on doing this every year that it's available. I think it couldn't go to a better cause. The resources offered to us have been phenomenal. I'm just proud to be a very, very small part of it.”

For more information on Honor Their Courage or how you can get your school involved, email honortheircourage@woundedwarriorproject.org

Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, pmoulden@woundedwarriorproject.org, 904.570.7910

About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.

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