CARLSBAD — A once-a-week community service project has evolved into a student-run charity that is teaching a group of students from Santa Fe Christian High School business skills, organizational proficiency and some invaluable life lessons.
For the past 18 months, several teenagers from the Solana Beach school have spent their Saturday mornings at La Costa Glen retirement community in Carlsbad. They were helping resident Les Tenney with Care Packages from Home, a nonprofit organization he founded in 2007 that helps fill the basic needs of American soldiers serving overseas by providing them with requested items such as toiletries, magazines, DVDs, snacks and phone cards.
Tenney, 89, is a World War II prisoner of war who chronicled his experiences in an autobiography, “My Hitch in Hell: The Bataan Death March.” After hearing him speak at their school earlier this year, Ross Lucier, Hunter Ross, Dan Frye, Brett Buchanan, Karl Holmlund, Jason Anthony and Anthony Georgiades wanted to do more to help than simply pack boxes.
In February they began forming Students to Soldiers, an all-student organization that would take over Tenney’s operations for the summer. In addition to helping U.S. military men and women, the boys learned what it takes to run a business.
“It’s definitely given me a better work ethic, staying on schedule and meeting our goals,” 17-year-old Ross said.
“I definitely learned organizational skills and business skills,” 17-year-old Hunter said. “Every single part of this project works together to accomplish that one goal of sending out packages.”
What the seven young entrepreneurs didn’t expect to gain from the project was a deeper appreciation for their country and those who serve to protect it.
“It’s definitely given me a greater sense of gratitude,” 17-year-old Dan said. “A lot of people in my family have been in the military. My cousin is in Iraq right now. You know that they’re there and you’re thankful that they’re there, but it’s hard to really understand how big of a sacrifice it is for them. This is the least we can do to give back and show them that we still support them.”
“It’s great listening to Les and all the other veterans, what they have to say and their life experiences being passed on to us,” Ross said. “We want to try applying that to our lives.”
“Learning from wise men, what they’ve gone through and what they’ve experienced is something that we can really take from,” Hunter said.
Since the beginning of June — with help from a pool of 150 volunteers who sign up via Facebook — the group has spent four days a week packing and shipping boxes. They also plan fundraisers, send letters to family members and friends seeking donations and shop for supplies. Beef jerky is a popular request, they said. The boys are currently designing Students to Soldiers T-shirts they plan to sell to help raise money.
The organization accepts donations of phone cards, DVDs, magazines, books and money. Monetary donations have ranged from $25 to $5,000. One donor offered a dollar-for-dollar match for all money raised. The goal is to ship 500 packages, valued at about $50 each, by the end of summer.
For more information or to donate, send an e-mail to email@example.com.