|By Michelle Symington|
WEST SPRINGFIELD On Nov. 5, the West Springfield Department of Veterans Services and Veterans Council will honor local veterans, a businessman and student essay contest winners during the annual Veterans Breakfast.
The names of the honorees and essay contest winners are kept secret until the official announcement at the event, which is co-sponsored by the Department of Veterans Services and Veterans Council.
James Berrelli Jr., director of Veterans Services in West Springfield, explained that he initiated the breakfast four years ago because he thought "veterans in West Springfield should be recognized and honored."
He added that the veterans are honored for the work they do in the veterans community as well as the West Springfield community as a whole.
Initially, the two organizations honored one veteran a year, but two years ago began to honor one man and one woman veteran as veteran and woman veteran of the year.
Berrelli said that the award is based on who has shown the most support and have had the most activity in the community. He added that the winners are chosen by members of the West Springfield Veterans Council.
In addition to choosing a veteran of the year, the organizations choose a local businessman of the year to honor a person who has contributed the most to the veterans community in the city.
Local children will also be honored at the event as winners of the Veterans Essay Contest.
For each Memorial Day and Veterans Day, the city's fourth and fifth grade students have the opportunity to participate in an essay contest about different conflicts the United States have been involved in.
This year's contest topic is the Gulf War of the 1990s.
Berrelli explained that for the contest, students either had to interview veterans from that war or write an essay about the war.
"Every year it is a different subject," he said.
Past topics included the Vietnam War, the Korean War and World War II.
He said that the essay contest is designed to "educate the kids in West Springfield."
He explained that the students "may not be getting this type of education in history because they are not getting up to that time period."
He said that the essay contest originally began at the high school level, with scholarships as the award. However, Berrelli said that there was not a large enough response from the students.
He then tried the middle school level and then the elementary school students, and found that a larger response came from the fourth and fifth grade students.
Four winners a first and second at the fourth and fifth grade level are chosen from each of the city's elementary schools, including St. Thomas. Prizes include $50 for first place and $25 for second place.
The breakfast to honor all of the award winners will take place Nov. 5 at 10 a.m. in the St. Thomas School Auditorium.
Berrelli said that school officials are "gracious" to allow them to utilize the space at the school for the breakfast each year.
"We all love the atmosphere there so we want to keep it here as long as we can," he said.
The menu includes ham, eggs, home fries, doughnuts, pancakes, orange juice, coffee and tea.
Last year, about 230 people attended the event, he said.
According to Berrelli, much of the food for the event is donated by area businesses and each contributor's name will be on a sheet that will hang near the door to recognize their support.
All of the money raised by the event goes into the Veterans Council's budget, which Berrelli said pays for events such as the holiday parties at the Soldier's Home and Riverdale Gardens. The funds are also used by the Council, which is a non-profit organization, to purchase the awards needed to honor veterans.
Tickets for the breakfast are $7 for adults and $3.50 for children 12 and under. Tickets can be purchased by calling D. Richard at 739-7600 or Henry Tessier at 737-8641. Tickets will also be available at the door.
In addition to the upcoming Veterans Breakfast, a Veterans Day Parade will take place Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. Participants will assemble at 10:30 a.m.
Berrelli is seeking veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War during the 1990s to become parade marshalls.The parade will begin at the St. Thomas School parking lot.