Military overseas get a little piece of ‘home’ this holiday thanks to Albuquerque students

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Those serving our country this Christmas are getting a little piece of home, thanks to local students. Kids spent hours writing letters to send in care packages overseas and even got a few surprises of their own.

Teachers at South Valley Preparatory School say their middle school students are getting more through this project than just lessons in writing and geography; they’re getting a powerful lesson in paying it forward.

Carol Sanchez is a Blue Star mom whose child is serving our country.

“It warms my heart,” said Sanchez, who is also the president of the Rio Grande Valley chapter of the Blue Star Mothers. “I think it teaches our younger generation empathy and sympathy. A lot of them may not have anyone in the military so they don’t know what it’s like for those of us that do.”

The Blue Star Mothers help coordinate 1,200 care packages throughout the year. The lesson for students is one of the reasons she partners up with schools like South Valley Prep to write letters and put together some of those care packages to send to military overseas.

“In addition to supporting our men and women in uniform, for our kids, I feel making that connection with our country and what we stand for is really important,” said Robyn Darling-Greenley, a teacher at South Valley Prep. “They don’t always have that sense of belonging, so they really enjoy that process.”

This year, middle school students wrote more than 150 letters, going through a lengthy draft process before they were mailed off. Much to their surprise, some even got replies.

“It felt really good. It felt like I was doing something great,” said Genesis Holguin, a seventh-grader at South Valley Prep who got a reply. “That felt special. I thought I wasn’t going to get a response because soldiers are mostly busy.”

Another student didn’t quite get a reply, but her letter did make it to a soldier originally from Albuquerque. Uriel Corral, serving in the U.S. Army, documented the find on Twitter.

“I felt really excited because of the connection I had with him,” said Jarely Acosta, a seventh-grader at South Valley Prep whose letter made it to Corral.

Our local members of the military say these small tokens of giving back mean more than you realize. For many, these letters are the only piece of home they may get while overseas.

“While we were deployed, we received care packages, and some of the people I was deployed with, that may have been the only care package they got for Christmas. They didn’t have friends or family that sent letters,” said TSgt Anastasia Vreeland, serving in the 210th RED HORSE Squadron with the New Mexico Air National Guard. “As somebody who has received letters from students while serving overseas, it’s really heartfelt and heartwarming, especially to know that I have the support of people back home.”

Local military families say it’s an honor to see young students work together and give back.

“My daughter has received letters and it’s so touching. We’ve been in Afghanistan over 18 years and Iraq almost as long and we’re in other hot-spots across the world,” said Sanchez. “Our men and women have been deployed multiple times over and over again. To see people, young children, remember these men and women is really, really touching.”

Darling-Greenley says the school plans to document any further replies they get, using maps to make connections between where they’re serving overseas, where they’re based in the U.S. and where they’re originally from. She hopes the students continue to take away more than just a classroom lesson.

“Although we send out 150+ letters, we usually get about 10 replies. We treat those 10 like they’re all of ours. We share them in our assemblies. We plot where in the world this service member is from originally,” said Darling-Greenley. “It’s a geography lesson, as well as a lesson in paying it forward and love and patriotism.”

When sending the care packages, the school first reaches out to those who are originally from New Mexico or are based here. The school also says it tries to include something in the care packages the service members request. This year, the hot item was green chile.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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