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Students volunteer with Operation Military Kids

Seventy "Hero Packs" made for children of deployed men and women

As part of Binghamton University’s Veterans Day celebration, students made “Hero Packs” with dolls, journals and personal letters to give to the children of service members on active duty.

Victor Yang, veterans project liaison for AmeriCorps VISTA, worked with BU’s Veterans Services Office to plan the event. According to Yang, AmeriCorps VISTA brought this event to campus to provide students with the opportunity to put together specifically designed backpacks with support material for the children of deployed servicemen and women.

Yang said this was a way to get students more involved in the community and make a difference in the lives of children throughout the state.

“Remembering and honoring veterans is important, and having students get engaged and working with local communities is a big part of being a conscious citizen,” Yang said. “This was a great and easy opportunity to get student volunteers to make a real difference in the local community.”

Kitty White, New York state director of Operation Military Kids, said the Hero Packs include items to help comfort the children and give them communication tools.

“The backpacks are filled with a variety of things, a letter to child from a community member, a kit where kids make dolls that they can tell their worries too, a picture frame, a letter writing kit, a pen, a journal, and resources for parents to use, etc.,” White wrote in an email. “It goes to kids who do not live on installations and army bases, and so are able to get more comfort out of them.”

Students wrote letters to include in the backpacks, thanking the children for their bravery, sacrifice and commitment while their parents served overseas.

Chris Li, a sophomore majoring in sociology, said he hoped the Hero Packs raised the morale of the children and helped offer them a support system.

“I understand how it feels to actually be away from your parents for a really long time, and when you are in that situation, a support system becomes important,” Li said. “And when these kids see other kids with their parents during Christmas, I am sure it hurts, and that is when Hero Packs and stuff like this really make a difference.”

Amanda Berman, a sophomore double-majoring in English and economics, said Hero Packs are an easy way to help children with deployed parents.

“I have no connection to military, but I understand that parents’ decisions to go to the military can really affect kids and I wanted to help,” Berman said. “And I hope that it just reminds kids that although their situations may be difficult, there are a lot of people who appreciate what their parents are doing.”

Jasmine Pena, a senior majoring in Russian, said she valued the opportunity to give back to the community and help the children out.

“I truly enjoy helping out others, and making others happy, and making a difference in peoples lives,” Pena said. “It shows that even though the kids may be hurt, their parents are doing something great for country and they should be proud.”

Yang said the Veterans Services Office plans to start a student-run veteran group to focus on developing programs for veterans and to advocate for veteran issues on campus.

“One of our future goals is to start a student veteran group on campus that would help develop other programs designed specifically to help veterans and the families of veterans, and advocate for veterans issues on campus. I am trying to get members for next semester,” Yang said. “We are trying to focus on student veterans on campus because I think they are underrepresented, despite the fact that they are a significant part of [the] population, yet we do not really recognize their strength and them being here.”

At Binghamton, 15 students participated in the event to make 70 Hero Packs.

Yang said they plan to hold a similar event in the future after several people in attendance expressed interest in helping the veteran community.