JACKSON TWP — As the holiday season approaches, two students at Ryan Gloyer Middle School are working to spread the word about an organization seeking to honor fallen veterans this December.
Elise Ketler and Bella Colgan, two Seneca Valley seventh-grade students, have spent the past year working to raise awareness and funds for Wreaths Across America, a now-national initiative to adorn veterans' graves with wreaths in remembrance of their service.
The girls attended last year's event, laying wreaths on soldiers' graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
“We do Wreaths Across America which is an event in Washington, D.C., where you can go down and you can place wreaths on soldiers' graves and tombs,” Elise said. “We were invited to dinner last year, to make a wreath, and this year we're going down to another dinner.”
While in Washington, D.C., both students became heavily involved in the program, meeting other participants and learning ways they can continue to pursue the organization's mission after returning home.
“These girls really got it,” said Connie Ketler, Elise's mother. “They came home and were writing letters to the school and Wreaths Across America.”
Elise said she enjoyed the day they laid the wreaths.
“It's really pretty because there was a little bit of snow,” she said. “We'll usually go down and do some museums and then we'll go down to the cemetery and lay wreaths on the stones. You're supposed to say their names because it's said that the last time their name is said is when they're truly dead.”
Connie Ketler said it's a way of making sure their memories stay alive.
“The thing I took out of it as an adult was everyone was there for one cause,” she said. “And that was to honor our veterans.”
Now Elise and Bella are working to bring Wreaths Across America to their school.
“We're trying to bring the education trailer to our school so they can tell what they do and what their mission is and how they want to eventually bring the wreaths to most of the graves in the national cemeteries,” Bella said.
“We're trying to work with our school to bring them here, and we donated a bunch of money over the summer to buy more wreaths to spread across national cemeteries,” Elise said. “(We're) trying to bring them to our schools so people can learn about it and help donate too.”
Wreaths Across America began in Harrington, Maine, in 1992, after the Worcester Wreath Co. found itself with a surplus of wreaths and a desire to do more to honor the veterans.
From those beginnings, Wreaths Across America was formed and has since expanded to a national organization, laying wreaths and holding ceremonies at national cemeteries across the country, including at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies.
For more information or to get involved with the organization, visit its website at wreathsacrossamerica.org.