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Grateful students ‘coin’ U.S. soldiers

EAST MANATEE -- Herb Tschappat never had been “coined” and quickly choked up with emotion.

“Coining” is when an active duty soldier or a veteran is presented a token of gratitude, usually a half-dollar-size metal coin and most often during a quick encounter with a stranger, in honor of their military service.

“It was a thrill,” said Tschappat, a retired Manatee school administrator and U.S. Army Vietnam veteran, moments after he received a Grateful American Coin in front of more than 100 Braden River Elementary School third graders. “It felt like someone graders. “It felt like someone saying thanks.”

Tschappat was lured to Braden River Elementary off State Road 70 Tuesday by a request to read to a third grade class.

What he didn’t know was that he and a handful of other soldiers and veterans were part of a Braden River third grade Global Outreach project.

Not only are the children learning facts about Iraq and Afghanistan, two places were American are fighting, but they have been learning the five branches of the military, which are stated on the coins and how to show appreciation for something done on their behalf.

“We want to teach our children who real heroes are,” said third grade teacher Connie Dixon.

The teachers wanted a tangible way to teach the children about heroes and gratitude and found it in Grateful American Coin, a Tampa-based not-for-profit that has distributed roughly 30,000 coins to service men and women since it was founded in 2007.

But the school even had a surprise for Grateful American Coin.

“We knew they had a donation for us,” said local Grateful volunteer Ed Cleveland who came to the school Tuesday along with Grateful co-founder Deborah Benson to coin the servicemen. “But we had no idea it was this large.”

In one month the third graders raised $300 in coins, in a project they named “Coins for Coins,” and donated it Grateful American Coin.

Grateful American Coin plans to use the student’s donation to coin 50 veterans at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Tampa.

Grateful American Coin was started by Tampa residents Bill and Deborah Benson and their young boys, Max and Brock.

“This is the largest donation we have ever received,” Deborah Benson told the third graders.

When she coins someone, Benson combines a handshake with the words, “From a grateful American to an American hero, thank you.”

Benson and her family coin strangers constantly wherever they go.

“If I have had a bad day, when I coin someone, everything just feels right again,” Benson said. Benson coins quickly, not waiting for a response. “I don’t want them to have to say thank you for me saying thank you,” Benson said.

Third grader Kyle Davenport presented a pair of coins to Grateful Coin in honor of his grandfather, John Davenport, who recently died.

The elder Davenport served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.

Besides Dixon and Deleo, other teachers in the Global Reach project included Sheri Fink and Sue Tschappat, Herb Tschappat’s wife.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, Ext. 6686.