On Wednesday, May 25, West Shore Middle School teacher, Tom Acri, and one of his eighth-grade social studies classes, will host a fund-raising dinner to benefit veterans through Honor Flight New England.
Acri, named Teacher of The Year in Connecticut, came up with the idea of raising funds for veterans groups 11 years ago. Each year he chooses one of his eighth-grade classes to plan and execute the event. Through the years, funds from this event have gone to efforts such as equipping houses for veterans who have come home with disabilities, helping build a Vietnam memorial in Covington, and, in 2010, providing assistance to homeless female veterans. This year’s event will benefit Honor Flight New England, a New Hampshire-based organization that provides veterans an opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., and see veterans’ memorials from past wars. Priority is given to veterans of World War II.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro visited with the students in the Media Center at West Shore Middle School on Friday.
“It’s an honor to be here,” DeLauro started. “You can be very proud of yourselves. What you are accomplishing is unbelievable.”
She encouraged the students to speak with their family members who had served in the armed forces.
“Ask them to tell their story,” she said. “They need to know you care about the role they played.”
Citing the men who went to war in the days when women stayed at home, she added, “Ask the women about the work they did at home, working in factories and keeping the family together.”
“We have a lot in common,” DeLauro told the 20 students. “You are helping the veterans and the Congress is working on legislation that benefits them.
"You can become a force,” she said, “to make sure we are doing the right thing by them.”
She went on to say that of the 61,500 veterans in her district, 462 are homeless.
“You may not vote,” she told the students, “but you have a voice and can have influence. Stay involved.”
As if to support DeLauro’s conviction, Acri told MilfordPatch, “This is more than a fund-raising event. It is a teaching tool that gives the students an opportunity to help people they don’t know.”
Although they raised almost $4,500 last year, he said, “We don’t have a financial goal. My goal as a teacher is to give them an awareness and provide them with the confidence that they have accomplished something special.”
Students attested to Acri’s success in attaining his goal. Maren Sanchez, one of the students, said, “The project has brought our class and the whole community together,” while Jamie Loma remarked, “Learning who we’re helping made me think of what I have and others don’t have.”
Student Enrique Llinas, whose grandfather was a veteran, said it gave him a better appreciation of how veterans support our country, while Tim Rebentisch said that it gave him the idea to ask his grandfather, a Vietnam veteran, about what he did during the war.
“The hardest part of the project, and the most fun, was asking for donations for the raffle from businesses in town,” said Maren Sanchez. “It gave me a sense of accomplishment. Some of the businesses who couldn’t donate raffle prizes gave us cash, and others wished us good luck.”
The raffle will include gift certificates and items from local businesses and specialty gifts such as an “Office of the Attorney General” sweatshirt donated by state Attorney General Jepson and an autographed book sent by veteran and Senator Bob Dole who is a member of the National Honor Flight Organization.
Asked why their class was chosen to run the event, several students said, with big grins, “Because we’re special!” It is, they said, an honor to be the chosen class.
On hand to encourage the students was Vietnam veteran Dominick Turdo whose wife, Angela, is a para-professional at West Shore who partners with Acri on this project each year.
“We started at the school at the same time,” she said.
Angela Turdo agreed with seventh-grade teacher, Pauline Davey who said, “Tom Acri is a great teacher, a great citizen and a great role model for his students. He lives what he preaches.”
The fund-raising dinner at West Shore Middle School will start 6 p.m. on Wednesday, with dinner provided by Scott Rohrig of Lasse’s Restaurant. Home- made desserts will be provided by home bakers. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for veterans and children under 12. Reservations can be made by calling the school at (203) 783-3553 or emailing email@example.com. While seating is limited, last- minute reservations will be available at the door.