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HHS students learn first-hand about homeless veterans

Hitting close to home

Students chose to take part in the service-learning experience after reading a book in their American Literature-Online class. The book, which is a memoir written by Jeannette Wall's, entitled "The Glass Castle," chronicles the childhood of the author, especially focusing on her family's struggle with issues of poverty and homelessness.

The MACV experience, which allowed students to see firsthand the effects of poverty and homelessness on the individual as well as on families, was made all the more meaningful to the students because the people in need had served our country. MACV helped over 3,500 of Minnesota's 4,300 ex-servicemen, and they were appreciative. Many students noted the astounding number of veterans in attendance.

Student Jenna Mathison recalls, "You never realize how many people can be in a statistic until you meet them. When I was there, I saw men and women that had fought for our country come in for a meal or clothes followed by a wife or husband and three children. When you speak, you hear how your father, your mother, your friend is homeless, not just some statistic."

Coming from a military family, student Jamie Coulson's experience hit closer to home than most.

"This experience is nothing like I have seen or been through. My family has been fortunate, and has not had to go through what many of these veterans have had to go through. All of the veterans were characters and just so fun to talk to and help. I also learned about them just by observing them. Initially I thought we went to teach them, help them get back on their feet, but I came back with them having taught me. They are so happy with so little, and even those who are disabled and hurt make the best out of what they have. Some lived on their own and just needed a little help financially, others were literally homeless and had nowhere to turn to. It was fun, and it really opened my eyes. I think all the kids in the high school should have a rewarding experience like this," said Coulson.

Coulson's parents, Maggie and Jim Coulson, helped to chaperone the event. Her sister is currently in her first year at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and Jim Coulson is a retired Navy captain.

We've all seen them...

We've all seen them. As we pass them on the road, on the bus, we turn our heads away and pretend they don't exist. We offer a smile, and go about our business as though we had never seen them. What perhaps not everyone knows is that every third homeless individual in the United States is a war veteran; 50 percent of them battle substance abuse, and many even have families to support.

On Monday, May 12, one of Hudson High School's literature classes volunteered at the MACV (Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans) Stand Down, in Fort Snelling, to learn firsthand the experiences of our nation's impoverished veterans. MACV, started in 1992, began the Stand Down program as a small collection of local volunteers to help Minnesota's 4,300 homeless servicemen who are in need of basic amenities and services which most Americans take for granted.

Today MACV has grown to a multi-annual coalition of national and local organizations which provides a multitude of simple necessities such as clothing, healthcare, housing assistance, hot meals, and access to financial, political, social, mental, and spiritual assistance. This year almost 500 veterans attended the two-day event, which is over 100 more than last year's numbers.

Hudson students spent their day helping with a variety of activities. Some worked clerical duties like registering veterans or assisting them about the camp. Others did culinary duties preparing food in the mess tent. Still others spent some time gathering information by exploring and visiting with the numerous stations that dealt directly with the area's homeless and impoverished veterans daily.

After the day's closing ceremony, student Alex Solberg said, "The only thing cooler than helping all these people was seeing how grateful they were for what little we did. It is surprising how friendly they can be, even though they've been through all this."

Memorial Day significance: A brief history of Memorial Day

Written by Alex Solberg

"It is most fitting: that the ancients, especially the Greeks, had honored their dead, particularly their heroes, by chaplets of laurels and flowers." --General John A. Logan, 1866

To many of us it is just another day off from school, and we really do not know what Memorial Day is truly about. What we have turned Memorial Day into is a picnic, a family get-together or a sporting event, and we have forgotten what the day is about: Remembering those who have died serving in our country's military.

Memorial Day started out as "Decoration Day" after the Civil War had ended in remembrance of those who had died (though it was not set in stone as a nationwide event). It was finally made a national holiday on May 5, 1868. The man responsible for organizing this was General John A. Logan, the commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, which was a veterans' organization. So, on May 30, 1868, the country first observed a day of remembrance for fallen soldiers.

Since then, there have been some changes to Memorial Day (although the term "Memorial Day" wasn't commonly used until after the WWII).

Memorial Day finally became what it is today in 1968 when the United States Congress passed the "Uniform Holiday Bill." This bill affected three holidays that included Washington's birthday (now known as Presidents Day), Veterans Day (originally Armistice Day), and Memorial Day. The bill was particularly important on how Memorial Day operates today by switching the day's original date from May 30 to the last Monday in May.

Today, Memorial Day is most certainly a day of remembrance, both for loved ones who have passed, and for our soldiers who have served and died for our country. So, before you go on your family outing this Memorial Day weekend, take the time to also remember those who have died serving our country to preserve our way of life.