Writing project encourages veterans, families to write about experiences

Kelly Cordingley, Editor in Chief

The posters are displayed throughout the school. As one walks down the 600 hallway, a poster of the Statue of Liberty stands out with, “Veterans’ Writing Project” written across the top. The poster has hung there since this time last year, and yet the purpose is still somewhat unknown to the student body.
The Veterans’ Writing Project was started by librarian Ken Stewart and communication arts teacher Kelsey Bakalar last year.
“It is an opportunity for veterans and veteran’s families to come in,” Stewart said. “It’s a spur to get them to start writing about their memories. They can write about a person, place or time for their own
benefit or to leave memories behind for generations who don’t know.”
The group began meeting again this year on Oct. 4 in the library and will meet every week for six weeks.
“The hardest part at the beginning is to get them writing,” Stewart said.
Veteran Writing Project participant Chris Campbell said begining the writing process was nerve-wracking for him.
“It was a long time since I’d written for someone,” he said.
Bakalar said although she was initially worried she wouldn’t be able to contribute much to the project, she said she was excited the veterans were eager to learn.
“They wanted to know what an Oxford comma was and how to organize their story,” she said “There are so many memories they have, I’m thrilled to be a writing coach for them.”
Although last year the group was just veterans, this year it has expanded to their families.
“We included them this year because they have served from home,” Stewart said.
He said the group is especially dear to his heart because he had grown up hearing stories about war from older family members.
“I always thought ‘these stories aren’t written down. They’ll be lost,’’’ he said. Bakalar said she got involved because of her admiration for service men and women.
“They face death to give to our country,” she said. “My calling was teaching, they say theirs was to serve. I want to give back.”
Through the project, Bakalar said she has developed a thicker skin.
“Most of them, through what they’ve been through, have become hardened,” she said. “Listening to their stories breaks you down and builds you back up. It has taught me to appreciate life more.”
The veterans in the past have written about their experiences during wartime, but Stewart said the topics can vary.
“We had one person who wrote it sounding like a report,” he said. “Then we had one person doing a deep introspection of themselves — there are just so many areas to write about.”
Another vital part of the group is the healing that can occur.
“I hope they gain camaraderie, peace and happiness,” Bakalar said. “I want them to feel appreciated.”
Campbell said his experiences in the project have given him a chance to meet other veterans.
“I didn’t know anyone, but it gave me a chance to meet new people,” he said. “There are so many varied backgrounds.”
Bakalar said this year’s project will differ from last years in that she will be stepping back some.
“I’d like more teachers involved,” she said. “I know time is precious, and we have so many teachers involved in so many things. But if we got them there, I know they’d see the value.”