We call it the power of the wreath, and we stand back in awe as Americans across this nation and overseas embrace the mission to remember, honor and teach. The Arlington Wreath Project began over 25 years ago as one family's patriotic gesture of kindness. Today, it has grown into a national, year-round effort today known as Wreaths Across America.
The millions of volunteers who empower the organization and its growth all have different reasons for getting involved during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. The one thing that unites every one of them is a sense of responsibility to "give back" and show gratitude for those who have answered the call of duty in service to our nation.
As Wreaths Across America counts down to National Wreath Day, Saturday, December 16, 2017, we are uplifted by the connections being made as people prepare for their ceremonies. One young volunteer in Pennsylvania is bringing her community together, and her efforts are remarkable.
Meet Amelia. She's a 12-year-old Girl Scout who loves horses, and she's a new location leader this year for Wreaths Across America. Any volunteer location leader can tell you that getting a ceremony started in your hometown is challenging, but rewarding, and it takes a team. Amelia has embraced the challenge, and she's exceeding everyone's expectations already laying the groundwork for next year's event before her first Wreaths Across America ceremony is held.
"She is a Cadet Girl Scout, and she finished her journey allowing her to work toward a Silver Award," Amelia's mother, Rhonda Fehr, explains. "She heard Mr. Yanek talk about how he participated in a Wreaths Across America event in another community in Pennsylvania and she said, 'I'd like to do that here.'" The Girl Scout's Silver Award is described by that organization as "an opportunity to do big things and make your community better in the process."
Rhonda goes on to explain the award requirements stipulated a one-time event would not qualify so Amelia decided to start a Veteran's Club at her school which meets twice a month. One of the club's responsibilities is to prepare for the Wreaths Across America event.
"Then she went to the Wreaths Across America website and printed everything off. She started a checklist, went down through it and told me she'd ask for help when she needed it."
Rhonda says she's experienced the "power of the wreath" watching people react to her daughter's presentations.
"Amelia was at an open house recruiting involvement with the club and the Wreaths Across America ceremony. One woman when she saw what Amelia was doing started to cry and left the area. I thought, oh no what have we done? The woman returned later to explain she had just lost her husband who had served in the military."
That service and sacrifice are not lost on Amelia.
"A lot of people in my family like my great grandparents died in a war and I didn't know them. A lot of other people in my family are now in the military, and I just want them to know that they're being remembered for what they're doing for us," Amelia shares.
Amelia has a special ceremony planned for National Wreaths Across America Day for the Holy Family Cemetery. She proudly runs down the itinerary.
"We'll have some guest speakers, and our chorus will come out and sing for us, and we're inviting a brass band to play. I have a friend who will sing the National Anthem for us too."
Amelia is pleased her efforts are supported by her school community, and her initial goal of sponsoring 100 wreaths has already been met and exceeded.
"I went to the school's PTO meeting and told them what I was doing, and the PTO people decided they would give us some money for veteran's wreaths."
Joe Yanek is the Principal at Nazareth Area Intermediate School, and he learned about Wreaths Across America by volunteering at wreath-laying events in a different community with his wife's company.
"I said we could do this and we have the capacity with our school to put this event together in our community," Joe explains. "The student council was a little slow in moving on it, and then Amelia stepped forward. I empowered her, and she took the risk and started in on the project. She's done an amazing job getting everyone involved who should be involved from our chorus to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. She's been persistent and focused. She's really quite something."
Joe says Amelia's efforts, combined with fundraising support from the school's student council and PTO, have made it possible to sponsor enough wreaths to honor 289 veterans laid to rest in Holy Family Cemetery.
"Some of the schools in the region have great programs for Veterans Day but we don't, and I thought this would be a great way to honor the veterans in our community and create a positive community connection for the school."
"I'm very proud of her," expressed Rhonda. "Amelia has had a lot of blocks in her life from day one. She came early, had a lot of medical issues, and is diagnosed on the Autism spectrum. She struggles in school and to see her come out of her shell gives me a lot of hope. Seeing her get passionate about something like this is what every Mom wants. To know that their child will fight to help other people because that's what's going to make the world a better place."
Wreaths Across America is proud of Amelia too and the leadership she has demonstrated in uniting her school and surrounding community to remember our fallen, honor those who serve and their families and teach younger generations the value of freedom.
Thank you, Amelia, Rhonda, Joe and the entire Nazareth Area Intermediate School community for your service!