In 2016, I started a card-making project at my school that I named Operation ROV (Remember Our Veterans). My goal is simple: to save lives by showing veterans that we still remember them and that we care. Just as military men and women save lives every single day, we can help save their lives when they are down and out. Lots of people write cards to active duty military personnel. But what about those who come back from war and are having difficulty? Approximately 20 veterans per day commit suicide according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Even though I started Operation ROV at my school, I now have students, teachers, and principals at 7 other schools who will take ownership of the project at their schools. I provide supplies and pick-up/deliver their cards to local organizations that I contact and develop a professional relationship with. Last year, my start-up year, I only had one school participating, but I was still able to deliver 425 cards to Sister Dougherty, Senior Chaplain for the City of Tampa Police Department who used the cards for post-trauma retreats for veterans. This year, I hope to quadruple the cards and increase the impact.
I’ve written cards to veterans before, so I already knew how to do that and where to send them. But, I wanted to do something locally; something that I could see was helping the veterans where I live, especially the veterans who were down and out. So, when I started 6th grade, I wrote the principal of my new school a letter introducing myself, my love of the military, my idea for Operation ROV, and my wish to get as many kids as possible involved. My principal liked my card project and let me introduce it first to the teachers and then to the student council. After their approval, I made a PowerPoint presentation and presented the project to the entire school during an all-school assembly. I then supplied teachers in grades 2-8 with supplies and instructions for them to teach their students how the cards should be made and what they should say. After that, my card project took off and students made cards whenever they had free time (before, during, or after school). I collected the cards every 3 months and delivered them. The hardest part of my project was convincing more schools and principals to participate because I wanted the project to be more than a one-school, one-day type service project, which is what most schools do for Veterans Day only. I wrote letters, made phone calls, and met with many schools and organizations. I wanted Operation ROV to be something that is always available in the classroom and easy to do. The easiest part was talking to the local organizations. With my mom’s help, we found several local organizations that serve veterans locally and they said they wanted cards. They said that cards from kids really could actually help their veterans feel better when they’re sad. Last year, approximately 250 students and 18 teachers participated in the project. They made 500 cards, but only 425 followed my instructions and were good to be given away. I delivered these 425 cards to Sister Anne Dougherty, Senior Chaplain for the City of Tampa Police Department at the Franciscan Retreat Center. She used all of the cards for post-trauma retreats for veterans and first-responders. I think that Operation ROV helped a lot of veterans by letting them know that we remember them and that we care, but I also think that making cards helped a lot of people actually do the remembering part and gave them an opportunity to follow through on the caring part. I also think the project helped raise awareness of veterans and their issues. This year, I hope to quadruple Operation ROV’s impact because I have involved 7 more schools, for a total of 8 schools. I have also met with 4 other organizations that want my cards, for a total of 5 organizations. All of the organizations are different: one is a soup kitchen, one provides temporary housing, one provides services, one is medical, and another is spiritual. I will keep asking more schools and organizations to be involved. And, I hope that all the students and teachers that have been inspired will continue to make cards and take ownership of the project at their own schools. I hope that after I graduate, they will pass the idea down to younger students so that it keeps going for years. Operation ROV is something that is not that hard to do and not that hard to keep up. You just need people who care to take a few minutes to make a card. And, you just need someone to be willing to deliver them.