Valentine’s Day is usually a day where we think of romantic love interests, hearts and flowers, but for a group of students at Dahlgren School, Valentine’s Day offered an opportunity to share kindness and chocolate with veterans at the Heritage Hall Healthcare Center in King George.

Kathryn Walseman’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) class was in need of a community service project, and Walseman immediately thought of her friend, Cathy Phillips, a member of Post 89 of the American Legion Auxiliary. Through the Auxiliary Veteran’s Activity and Rehab (VANR), Cathy Phillips provides outreach to veterans locally.

“At least once a month, usually on holidays, we try to get out and visit the veterans at the home, and we have a card for them at least,” Phillips said. “We try to get things that reflect their branch of service; I still see them wearing items from years past that we have gotten with their service branch.”

The organization averages between 12 to 20 veterans, both at Heritage Hall and other local facilities, as well as out in the community.

For Walseman’s part, learning about the outreach was the lightbulb moment that sparked this project into action.

“I ran into Kathy at the store and noticed she had like 50 bottles of Sure [an antiperspirant] in her cart and it was hard not to notice that,” Walseman laughed. “Once she explained what they were for, I thought this would be a perfect project for this school, especially.”

Walseman explained that one of the keystones of the AVID curriculum is to get students involved in community service, as that weighs heavily on college admissions; the overarching goal of the AVID program is to help keep students on an academic track to higher education.

The students contacted Phillips to let her know that this was a project that they wanted to be a part of.

“[The AVID students] created a plan of action and milestones and have really worked hard on this,” Walseman said.

Walseman’s AVID class put their plan of action into motion, conferring with the principal to ensure that they would be able to conduct the project through the school, putting together and presenting a public announcement to let the rest of the school know that they were seeking donations of candy for the veterans. They went from classroom to classroom to encourage their classmates to donate and made sure that any special requests were honored for the veterans.

“It was amazing how much candy, food and nuts we had when we finally unloaded it on the table,” Walseman said.

The students managed to fill 25 bags with candy and even made sure that one particular vet had an extra helping of Milky Way candy bars that are his absolute favorite. The bags were decorated by students in the younger grades, helping to make the project a school-wide event.

Phillips shared that perhaps it was the fact that the children came from military families that they could relate to the veterans; they could be their parents or grandparents.

“They really just have such a heart for it,”Walseman said.

Walseman is encouraged by the efforts of the AVID students and hopes that perhaps one of them might consider starting a club at the high school level to continue the mission. Unfortunately, high turnover at Dahlgren School due to military families moving has been a roadblock to getting this program off the ground as a club at the King George High School.

“Starting a club is such a sign of leadership,” Walseman said. “It’s right up there with being a team captain or class officer.”

The AVID students — sixth-graders Kaitlyn and Matt, seventh-grader Kaili and eighth-graders Jaida and Trinity — have already demonstrated their excellent leadership skills and are well on their way!