Service is an integral part of the Notre Dame Academy community, whether it is donating to a certain charity or working with young children at a homeless shelter. Many times, the service focuses attention on those in the greatest need or those who we know. Recently, however, NDA students participated in a service project that focused on the unsung heroes of our country, ones who risk their lives every day without expecting any attention for it. On Wednesday, February 2nd, NDA by participating in a global celebration of Catholic schools known as Catholic Schools’ Week. The purpose of this day was to remember and recognize the work of NDA’s founders Saint Julie Billiart and Françoise Blin de Bourdon. Throughout the day, many service projects were performed to help spread awareness about a cause or provide aid to those in need, honoring the hallmarks of the Sisters of Notre Dame. One such project did just that, while also contributing to a personal cause.
The goal of this project, simply put, was for eighth and ninth grade students to write notes to members of the military returning from a ten-month deployment on an aircraft carrier in the North Pacific Ocean. However, for Mrs. Knight, the project was anything but simple. Added to this simple idea was a personal element and a need to share a greater goal. Mrs. Knight’s younger brother was one of the soldiers stationed on the aircraft carrier and her sister-in-law organized the baskets for the soldiers. These notes would be included in a basket filled with essentials, such as shampoo, deodorant, and snacks, for the returning soldiers.
When asked about the number of notes produced and sent to her sister-in-law, Mrs. Knight remarked that there were many more than were expected. The expected number of notes was 79, which would be enough to fill every basket for her brother’s squadron with a note. However, the actual number of notes produced was at least 250, which was enough to provide a note in every basket for all squadrons on the carrier.
Whether a basket contains a note or not may seem insignificant, but once the logistics of it were explained, I began to realize why everyone on the carrier receiving a note was so incredible. Because to the soldiers, the note is so much more than a piece of paper. “To all the soldiers, it is the reminder of a thankful nation and an appreciation of a job well done. To the soldiers without any family to greet them, it is the hug they couldn’t receive,” said Mrs. Knight. A deployment such as this one is quite different than what is normally reported in the media. Many of the soldiers are on their first deployment, meaning they are only in their twenties and therefore usually do not have anyone to greet them when they return home. For these soldiers, once they disembark from the boat, they must immediately move into barracks and wait for orders on what to do next. The baskets ensure that these soldiers do not have to worry about running to the store after getting ashore, while the notes remind them their efforts are appreciated. There is someone all the way across the country praying and thinking about them.
Besides the service aspect and helping her brother, Mrs. Knight’s other goal was to educate the NDA students about the military and give them “an eye-opening experience.” As she explained the soldiers’ situation to the students, Mrs. Knight remarked, “The students truly began to understand what sacrifices the military makes on a daily basis and how hard their lives can be sometimes.” Although some students saw the life of a soldier as one that they would not want to lead, for others it was a look into a career they never considered and a realization of a vocation they might explore. Mrs. Knight explained, “Some students that day may have realized that there are other options than going to college after high school. That there might be a call to duty for them, even with all the dangers and risks, that it would all be worth it to help protect this country.” She also hopes that by getting involved with this project students begin to realize and show gratitude and thankfulness for all the work the military does, that soldiers are everyday people too, and most of all, provide a global view of what the military does throughout the world to keep us safe. She notes, “I want students to realize that the whole world is not just 1073 Main Street.”