Student-Soldiers from the National Guard Patriot Academy know what it's like to fall on hard times and need a helping hand. A few holidays ago, many of these students dropped out of high school to help their families pay for medical bills, living expenses and drifted from job to job to make ends meet.
Now with their high school diplomas within reach, these Soldiers have spread Christmas cheer and joy to the hearts of local children and families in need.
With coordination from the Patriot Academy staff and cadre, the students executed Operation Christmas Blessing to give needy Jennings County families a delicious hot meal, household goods and groceries as well as toys for the children.
Mrs. Beth Burnett from the North Vernon Rotary Club decorated the gymnasium with lights, Christmas trees and winter scenes. Holiday music softly played, while a video of a crackling fire displayed over a large projection screen during dinner. Throughout the evening, donated door prizes were given away. The event was held at the National Guard Patriot Academy gymnasium located at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville, Dec. 11. Nearly 150 people attended the event including North Vernon Mayor Harold "Soup" Campbell and his wife Joanne Campbell.
As the children were finishing up their meals with pumpkin pie and cherry-chocolate chip cookies, the faint sound of jingle bells got louder and louder. Excited children made their way to the entrance of the gym to see Santa Claus. A little boy took Santa by the hand and took him around the gym. After greeting all the children, Santa sat down with a local family and ate a hearty meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied carrots, pumpernickel bread and a cup of piping hot chocolate.
The brightly lit Christmas tree on the gymnasium stage overflowed with colorfully wrapped presents, gift bags and food baskets. The staff prepared a comfy chair, complete with cookies and milk, for Santa to present gifts to the children and families. The right jolly old elf held his belly and smiled as he wobbled to the stage. Children gathered round at the foot of his chair to listen to Santa read the "Soldier's Night Before Christmas."
Mayor "Soup" Campbell looked at Santa and knew he looked familiar. "Santa, you look like City Councilman Dave Shaw," exclaimed Campbell.
Santa said when he's in the area each year, he's often mistaken for Dave Shaw, who also owns and operates Shaw Monuments in Vernon. "I was stopped just the other day by a little girl who thought I was Dave," Santa said. "I didn't want to break her heart so I told her I was and that I was on my way to a Christmas party."
Children made tree ornaments and painted pictures at the arts and crafts tables. One little girl gave a painted bell to Santa. "That was so sweet," Santa said. "My heart melted."
The students raised money to purchase toys for the children and pay for their meals. They sat and talked to the children, escorted them during the evening and performed as Santa's helpers. Patriot Academy student, Pvt. Wesley Beck with the Indiana Army National Guard said that his decision to serve his country and better himself really hit home during the event.
"If we would have not left our comfort zone, we would never have the chance to reach out and touch the families and children in the community," said Beck. "It's truly a blessing in our lives to show them that we as Soldiers put the needs of others before our own."
The Patriot Academy staff and cadre also sponsored individual families and purchased items needed for their households. Anonymous donors also chipped in to fray the costs of the meals and household goods. Walgreens of North Vernon donated gift cards and Scott Green along with Debbie Ramirez at Linda's Log Cabin Inn of Vernon generously gave an evening of their tips to help pay for the evening.
The National Guard Patriot Academy is an accredited high school by the Indiana Department of Education and provides a high school degree completion program for dropouts from around the nation who qualify to enlist in the Army National Guard.
The school is located at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center and features a main academic building with 21 classrooms, full gymnasium, library, conference rooms and three dormitories for up to 500 students. The current class of 47 students is scheduled to graduate in March 2010. Visit www.NGPatriotAcademy for additional information.
This work, Patriot Academy Soldiers Bring Christmas Cheer to Local Families in Need, by MAJ Kyle Key, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.