essay winner congrats cupcakes

Education Begins with the Young: Teaching Respect for our Veterans

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso
Earlier this year, my 12-year-old daughter came home annoyed. She had to write an essay – an “Americanism” essay. I asked her why she was so frustrated. Her topic was specific – “what can you do to help homeless veterans in your community.”
She didn’t know where to begin.
We got in the car and I brought her to a main intersection near our home – one where I knew a gentleman would be. A gentleman who holds a sign that says “homeless vet – please help.” We have helped him in whatever ways we were able this winter – gloves, a blanket, water, warm meals – all without my children realizing that this man had a story.  
I would have loved to sit with him and hear his story – have her hear his journey first hand. The center median of a busy intersection during rush hour isn’t the place to safely stop and chat. Though she wasn’t able to hear his tale first hand, I think my goal was accomplished. Her eyes – naive to so much of the world still – were opened to the very real problem of veteran homelessness in our very own community.
She then took her search to The Google and learned that there is a homeless shelter walking distance from our house. She looked up “resources for Veterans” and found herself on the VA’s site.She clicked local centers and found one very near to her school. As she searched, we talked. We talked about why homelessness happens. We talked about what goes on when an active duty servicemember becomes a Veteran and the changes that come with that transition. We talked about the possible challenges and pitfalls.
Unfortunately for my girl, our conversation left her with more questions than answers. However, she was able to create a plan on how homeless veterans could be helped in our community. She submitted her essay into her English/Language Arts teacher the next day, and her teacher (as well as the other fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade teachers from hers as well as four other area schools) forwarded the essays along to the local American Legion.
Fast forward to March. I stood outside of IHM, awaiting my children when my oldest came running up to me and said “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy. Read this.” She pointed to the envelope in the side pouch of her back pack. The envelope contained a letter from the local American Legion, congratulating her on winning first place in the Americanism essay contest!
A week later, we were invited into the American Legion monthly meeting for a presentation of the local winners. My heart was bursting with pride as my child read her speech in front of her family, friends and American Legion members. As proud as I felt for her, my heart still felt a bit heavy that this topic should even be the subject of a middle school essay contest.
However, the more I thought about it, I realized the importance of this topic and why it is necessary to educate our children about veterans and those that face homelessness.
Having not grown up in a military family, much of my initial time as a staff member for has been spent gathering information, learning about the military and understanding a culture that I have always proudly supported but never fully understood. We have all seen someone standing outside in the elements holding a cardboard sign that said “Veteran and Homeless.” I’m sure most of us look at that sign and think “something needs to change.” Not many of us know how to start that change.
I am so very proud of my daughter for thinking outside of the box with her solutions and the way she can personally help in our community. The solution to homelessness among our veterans is within our grasp. These men and women know hard work. They know dedication. They have served our country and in many cases, seen the worst that warfare can show. Their homelessness isn’t a choice, it is often a byproduct of their experiences.
One of the highlights of my professional career has been interviewing and writing about Scott Beaty, a 20-year Naval Submarine Veteran who found himself in dire straights after his return to civilian life. Beaty, a PTSD sufferer and advocate, has helped countless veterans in similar circumstances by connecting them with art therapy. Through Veteran Art Connection, our online art gallery, veterans who utilize art therapy are able to share their work and in doing so, become entrepreneurs who can sell their creations.
We will continue to be leaders in our solutions to the problem of Veteran homelessness. As a parent, I will continue to teach my children how they can help and be hands-on to work to eradicate this issue for future generations.
Rosie’s original essay, as submitted to the American Legion, is below:
Helping Homeless Veterans
I can help by helping. I can help homeless veterans get jobs. If they can get a job then they can get money. If they have money then they can retain the money for a home, so they won’t be homeless anymore.
To start my program, I will find a team of veteran volunteers who are willing to go to homeless shelters and recruit homeless veterans. I would go to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Loch Raven Boulevard and ask them to help me to find volunteers. Our volunteers will work with veterans once they are enrolled in our program. We would make contact with the Fisher House Foundation to request assistance in finding long term housing for our initial group of veterans.
We need to help our group of homeless veterans find jobs. To do this, they need an address, interview clothes and help with applications. Our volunteers will help them write applications. To make sure that they are dressed nicely for their interview my school and the attached church can start a nice clothing drive and have the homeless come pick something nice to wear for their job interview. Before their job interview they will need to get ready it would be my plan to have the clothing bank near showers so they can get ready in one spot. Then we will need to get them to their interview. I can do this by gathering people to drive them.
Our volunteers will help our veterans stay employed and teach them how to use their money to stay in their home. My plan will help get homeless veterans off the streets and out of shelters. If we all work together, then this plan will work. It is better to work for what you need.