Veterans enlist as volunteers at Afton-Lakeland ElementaryFive former soldiers, who proudly served their country during their tours, recently signed on for a different kind of duty – one with no pay and huge rewards.
By: Special to the Bulletin, Woodbury Bulletin
Five former soldiers, who proudly served their country during their tours, recently signed on for a different kind of duty – one with no pay and huge rewards.
These veterans now spend each Wednesday morning serving the students of Afton-Lakeland Elementary as volunteers, mentors, and friends.
“They absolutely love it,” said Katie Wrich of the Veterans Home. “It’s the highlight of their week. One guy said after the first day he was here, ‘This was the best day I’ve had in 15 years.’ They’re doing what they love to do.”
Every week the vets travel from the Veterans Home in Hastings to Afton-Lakeland where they happily perform whatever tasks are asked of them. On a recent Wednesday, David Wallin could be found grading papers in a sixth-grade classroom, while Paul Udvig played a vocabulary game with a first-grade student.
“They make a difference in my students’ lives by patiently working one-on-one to help my students be all they can be!” Colleen Hayne, first grade teacher, said of volunteers Udvig and Bill Koch. “They are fantastic encouragers. I often hear them praising the children – yielding both smiles and confidence.”
By working in the same classrooms each week, the volunteers and students get to know each other and feel more comfortable around one another. Students throughout the school recognize the service the veteran volunteers provided to their country, and are able to identify with them as they talk about Veterans Day, recite the pledge of allegiance, or sing patriotic songs.
“It’s meaningful to the kids and helps them make a connection to someone who has served our country,” said Derek Berg, sixth-grade teacher.
The veterans support the students and teachers by providing their time and attention, sharing their wisdom and experiences, and lending a hand when they can. When watching the veterans and children interact, however, it may be difficult to tell who really enjoys the time together more – adult or student.
“There’s a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction to think I may have done something to help one kid,” said Wallin, an Air Force veteran who served mainly in the Philippines during his service from 1979-1983. “I think volunteers help them to be better students. I’ve always liked working with kids.”