Program 'desperately seeking' veterans to speak to Elgin-area students
A program that invites Elgin-area veterans to speak in classrooms around Veterans Day was so successful that many more volunteers are needed this year.
There have been about 130 requests for speakers for the "Veterans Voices" program and about 40 veterans have signed up so far, or about 20 short of the ideal, said librarian Tish Calhamer of Gail Borden Public Library. People's lives tell stories, and this is a great way to teach kids what it means to serve and what Veterans Day is all about, Calhamer said.
"We are desperately seeking more vets," she said.
John Oliver, principal at Clinton Elementary School in South Elgin, said he's excited to have veterans back in November after they spoke in fourth- through sixth-grade classrooms last year. One thing is to learn about wartime in textbooks, but it's entirely different to ask questions of veterans who served in submarines, aircraft carriers and military support, he said.
"The reaction from the students was ... of great appreciation," Oliver said, "not only for the service that they had done for our country, but also for coming in an sharing their knowledge and their information with the students."
Amy Stewart, a teacher at Fox Meadow Elementary School in South Elgin, said a former Navy SEAL spoke to her fifth-grade classroom last year. "The kids were fascinated with his stories of bravery, strength and complete humility," she said.
The program was spearheaded by Elgin resident Jerry Turnquist, a retired history teacher who knows lots of veterans thanks to his involvement with Memorial Day planning. "We are presenting it as, "Go in a classroom, sit down next to the teacher and just have a conversation -- about what it means to be a veteran, what you did and what Veterans Day means,'" he said.
Last year's 16 volunteers largely comprised veterans from the Del Webb senior community in Elgin, including Rob Braido, 73, who served in Vietnam in the late 1960s. The group visited about 20 schools from elementary to high school.
The students had plenty of interesting and poignant questions, Braido said. "It's a lot of fun for us because we just feel like we want to give back," he said. "When we came home from Vietnam, we weren't welcome back ... but today it's a different story."
Veteran Dave Branham, 70, of Hoffman Estates, who served in Germany in the 1970s, said he, too, loved the experience. "It was one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. I had such a good time," he said.
Especially touching was getting "thank you" letters in the mail from the students, the veterans said.
So far, volunteers are mostly Vietnam War veterans, with some Korean War and Iraq War veterans, one female veteran, and even a 98-year-old World War II fighter pilot. Organizers hope for more young and female veterans.
The program is Nov. 1 to 16. Interested veterans can attend orientation sessions at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 20 in the Elgin room of the library, 270 N. Grove Ave., Elgin.