There is nothing like coming home to family and friends for those serving in the military after a long deployment in hostile areas of the world. But the initial joy of being home can be fleeting for some, whose experiences can sometimes leave them feeling isolated from the civilian world around them.
The Future Problem Solvers, a group of Manatee area high school students, hope to bridge the gap between those who have served and those who have not through a project called “Soldiers to Civilians.” At 11 a.m. March 11 at Summerfield Park, 6402 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., the students will host a community event with the goal of bringing together veterans and their community.
Food, games and entertainment will all be part of the event but the focus of the project is to help the community understand the plight of American warriors and how their service affects their lives. This group of students captured an international award for last year’s project, Just Say Hello, Homeless are Humans too.
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Over the past several months, students have interviewed veterans and their families and veteran services organizations, visited wounded veterans and attended various military services. They also are involved with nonprofit organizations that send care packages to veterans serving overseas. They have arranged for veterans and families to speak in area schools and produced a 4-minute documentary that will be entered into the Manatee Film Festival.
“We heard a lot about how different veterans are when they come back from wars and missions,” said Southeast High School junior Victoria Sinclair. “It’s been an extremely moving project for us. It’s hard to face the reality for what these veterans are asked to do.”
Sinclair said students read about military involvements in textbooks, but the project brought home that real American lives were at stake within those words.
“We can never truly comprehend what it’s like to serve,” she said. “It’s been very real for our team members.”
Sinclair said the March 11 veterans picnic is a way to get veterans and the community together to interact.
This project’s goals are to advocate for veterans who have given us so much and have received so little in return.
Victoria Sinclair, Soldiers to Civilians project team member
“It’s to let them know that they are part of the community,” she said. “It’s to let them know how much we all support them and how much they mean to us. It’s to say thank you. This project’s goals are to advocate for veterans who have given us so much and have received so little in return.”
The students are learning the complexities of what it means to be a veteran and the issues that can accompany the service. Veterans often don’t know how to communicate their experiences to those who have not served. Friends and families of veterans can see the changes and don’t know how to respond.
A couple of years ago, Walmart started a “Greenlight A Vet” program where they sell green light bulbs for under $1 for homeowners to show support around Memorial Day. The students have partnered with the Walmart on State Road 70 and hope to see more support for the community’s large veteran population.
Sinclair said anyone displaying a green light can contact the group through their Facebook page, Soldiers to Civilians Manatee so the students can document how much Manatee County supports its veteran population.
“Sometimes people can feel uncomfortable approaching a veteran,” Sinclair said. “It may be because it’s hard to understand what they’ve gone through and it’s hard for the veteran to explain so there is that detachment from one another we hope to overcome.”