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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Conte Comfort Shipped to Troops

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Monday, April 25, 2005

Michael Reese shows off golf clubs being sent to troops.
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North Adams – Chapstick, flea collars, personal hygiene products, canned goods and even golf clubs are among the items bound for troops serving in Kuwait and Iraq, courtesy of Silvio O. Conte Middle School students enrolled in teacher Melanie Rancourt’s geography class.

On April 25, several students packed numerous boxes with supplies and later in the day, the taped brown boxes began the journey from the school library to the Middle Eastern desert. The project was rooted in a desire to offer comfort items to the soldiers, said the students.

“We wanted to help,” said 12-year-old Danielle Maynard.

“It’s hard over there,” said 15-year-old Katie Darling.

The project was part of a geography unit involving the culture, religion, and government of Asia and Iraq, said Rancourt. Rancourt is a member of a Living Democracy study group affiliated with a North Adams Public Schools service learning program. The January elections in Iraq offered an example of democracy in another country, said Rancourt.

“The elections fit in perfectly with the theme of the project because some Iraqis are living with democracy for the first time,” she said.

Assisting the troops serving in Kuwait and Iraq offered a hands-on lesson in community service without political tones, Rancourt noted. “Soldiers are overseas for many reasons,” she said. “The reason I stressed to my students was [troops] are there to help the Iraqis create a new government for their country. The other reasons that our soldiers are overseas are irrelevant to this project. The fact of the matter is they are there, and they need our love and our support.”

On April 13, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary Blake spoke to the students about military life and the needs of troops stationed in desert areas. A school-wide candy bar fundraiser initiated by Rancourt and her geography students generated revenues to purchase supplies; Blake was able to identify items that would be helpful. On April 15, the students shopped for about $1,000 worth of merchandise, and when there was some money left over, classroom paraprofessional assistant Naureen Collins investigated tag sales and other venues and bought items such as paperback books for the troops.

Many needed items surprised the students as well as Rancourt. Rancourt said that the students were curious as to why troops would need baby wipes.

“The kids were saying ‘the soliders don’t have babies,’ but they learned that water isn’t plentiful and the wipes help the troops clean up,” she said. “Flea collars are tightened around the soldiers’ boots so that sand fleas will not crawl up their legs and bite them, which is something that I learned.”

Blake visited the students while on a two-week leave from a base in Kuwait; he is now back in Kuwait and is aware that the packages are coming. The packages will be distributed to troops in Kuwait and Iraq, Rancourt said.

When her students realized the challenges of being away from home and living in a very different climate, they were eager to offer assistance, Rancourt said.

“They understood that the troops can’t just head on down to the corner store when they need something,” she said. “It was incredible to see how much they rallied around the troops for this purpose.”

Susan Bush can be reached at 802-823-9367 or via e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.com.
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