Middle schoolers try to give soldiers a happy holiday

LAWRENCEVILLE - Some middle school students in Gwinnett are trying to make sure hundreds of troops stationed overseas will enjoy the holidays.

J.P. McConnell Middle School's Junior Beta Club and Summerour Middle School's Youth Action Team on Thursday put together care packages and wrote letters to soldiers who have been deployed for the holidays.

The schools were working on separate projects, but students at both schools wanted to show the troops that people at home appreciate what they are doing.

"We're wishing them a Merry Christmas and thanking them for protecting us while they're at war in Iraq," said Caitlin Carroll, a seventh-grade student at Summerour who is the co-president of the Youth Action Team.

Summerour students were decorating large plastic baggies, which they stuffed with items such as T-shirts, books, games, coffee and snacks. The decorations included personal greetings and holiday phrases written in Spanish, French and Arabic.

At McConnell Middle, the Junior Beta Club members worked in teams to prepare packages for soldiers they have adopted. They filled the boxes with items such as teddy bears, lip balm, puzzle books and snacks.

Shelby Oaks, an eighth-grader at McConnell, said she was "really excited" to learn of the Junior Beta Club's efforts to support the troops. Several people in her family are veterans, she said, and she was eager to help.

The Junior Beta Club - a nonprofit, scholastic organization - also had the help of Duluth Police Lt. Bill Stephens and Operation One Voice.

Their packages are being sent to special operations forces. For security reasons, some of the packages were addressed to "any solder."

Stephens helped by providing addresses for the troops. He said Operation One Voice is a grass roots effort that includes police officers, firefighters and community leaders who support the special operations forces and their families.

Summerour students are sending their packages to the 10th Mountain Division, 14th Infantry Regiment, Second Battalion in the U.S. Army, which is serving in Iraq.

Aimee Walthall, a seventh-grade Summerour teacher and adviser for the Youth Action Team, said the school's club lets students participate in community service projects. Last year, they gathered clothing for Hurricane Katrina victims. This year, they're helping the troops.

"We just want to do something for them," Walthall said, "because they are sacrificing their lives."