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Students focus on betterment of their community

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

SOUTHWICK While many teens are debating over which Coach purse or gaming system to put on their holiday wish list, the members of Interact, a community service group at Southwick-Tolland Regional High School, are putting their shopping needs on hold for the troops.

Last year Shannon Day, a member of Interact and senior at the high school, spearheaded a holiday card campaign for military personnel serving overseas. Her efforts generated over 400 personalized greeting cards shipped to local soldiers serving in Iraq with the assistance of Springfield Army Recruiter Sgt. Andrew Courville.

This year the card campaign has become an official Interact project as a part of their international service requirement and has been expanded to include all students in the Southwick-Tolland Regional School District.

"Most of the messages are really heartfelt and almost bring a tear to your eye," Day said of her read-through of the hundreds of cards prior to their mailing. She added that many art teachers have included this as a card-decorating project for their students this year. While cards have been bought with leftover monetary donations from last year's holiday card campaign, Day said many students have decided to send homemade cards.

"For the soldiers that are deployed overseas or that are even here [in the United States] and not near their families, it means a lot to have the support of the average citizen," Courville said. He noted that upon meeting Day on a field trip to West Point Military Academy last year they discussed ways of supporting the troops, including the card campaign, which he said has become a successful endeavor.

Courville said last year the cards were mailed to a local military unit serving in Iraq. This year, however, they will more than likely be sent to soldiers serving stateside as he has been unable to locate a local unit serving overseas.

Courville and Day said the monetary donations collected for postage were not large enough this year, requiring them to pay for the remainder of the cards to be mailed.

With the completion of the holiday card campaign, Day said she is working with Courville to organize another seasonal greeting card campaign for the springtime.

"We want the soldiers to know that we're thinking of them all year long, not just at the holiday season," Day said.

Courville said he is eager to work with Day to send additional cards to the troops because "the soldiers are deployed 365 days a year and it would be nice to get support another time during the year."

Interact is also participating in and preparing for future community service and fundraising efforts. Last week several members of the club were sponsored to participate in a 24-hour fast to raise hunger awareness.

Kevin Towle, public relations director for Interact, said each member willing to participate must achieve sponsorship by asking people to donate to the club's overall fundraising account. He added that each year the 24-hour fast raises approximately $500.

Towle said last year over $4,000 was raised by various Interact fundraising efforts such as hat days, can drives and a talent show. At the end of the 2006-07 school year the funds were disbursed to various local, national and international charities, such as the American Red Cross of Greater Westfield, Paralyzed Veterans of America and UNICEF AIDS Foundations.

Towle said they are looking to surpass their fundraising efforts from last year, while maintaining their policy of pressure-free donations for the good of all people.