By Steven Hoffman
Kassidy England’s Girl Scout Gold Award project will result in a lasting tribute to Oxford alumni who have served in the U.S. military.
England, a junior at Oxford Area High School, is leading the effort to start an honorary display saluting veterans. She is currently collecting the names of local veterans so that they can be included on a plaque that will be unveiled during a ceremony later this year. The plaque, which will be on display near the school's rotunda, will include the veteran’s name, the branch of the military in which he or she served, and the last year that the person attended Oxford Area High School. In addition to the plaque, there will a display case filled with letters, pictures and memorabilia from local servicemen and servicewomen. One person has already donated an American flag for the display.
Kassidy said that she chose this project because she thinks it is important for students, alumni, and the public to honor those Oxford students who honorably served the country.
“I am so appreciative of the sacrifices these men and women make for our country’s freedom, and this project is a token of my appreciation,” Kassidy said. “They do an important job and it’s important to show respect and recognition for what they do.”
She started reaching out to collect names of veterans to honor last year. She handed out fliers at the 2013 Memorial Day Parade. The effort was officially approved as the Girl Scout Gold Award project in February. The Gold Award is the highest award that a Girl Scout can earn and only about five percent of the eligible Girl Scouts successfully earn the prestigious award. She has also received permission at the high school to make this part of her graduation project.
Kassidy said that she will spend the next few months continuing to collect and research information about local veterans, utilizing social media, emails, and sources at the Oxford Public Library. She has already accumulated 230 names, and hopes to at least double that amount by July. Kassidy said that she has heard from a lot of people about the project, especially after posting information about it on Facebook.
“I really haven’t advertised very much at all,” Kassidy said, “but I’ve had so any emails—it just doesn’t stop.”
The requirements for a U.S. to be included on the display are the following: The veteran must have graduated from Oxford Area High School or attended an Oxford school until going into the Armed Forces, served a minimum of one day after basic training, and the veteran cannot have a dishonorable discharge.
There is no searchable database that would allow someone to identify all local veterans, so Kassidy realizes she won’t be able to identify all the Oxford alumni who have served their country. The hope is that, over time, a significant number of veterans will be included on the plaque.
Kassidy said that the school district has agreed to continue the project by adding more names to the display in the future. Each plaque can hold about 270 names so Kassidy is hopeful that more than one will be needed for the ceremony later this year.
“We will definitely need two maybe three plaques,” she said.
She added that she hopes the ceremony in November will serve as an opportunity for the community to come together, and she hopes that the veterans display will unite the community in its support of local veterans.
Kassidy is squeezing in work on the project into her already busy schedule. The 17-year-old plays varsity field hockey and is the team manager for the varsity baseball team. She also belongs to the FBLA, the Helping Hands group, and LEOs, and takes dual enrollment classes with Delaware County Community College and Goldey-Beacom College.
So far, the hard work is paying off. Kassidy said that she has received some tremendously positive feedback.
Jim Singleton, in a Facebook post, called the display “a very good and long overdue honor for those men and women from Oxford Area High School who served in the military. And a very special “thank you” to you, Kassidy, for taking on such an important project.”
Betty Kane, whose son served the country, said that she was proud of Kassidy for undertaking this project. “Our veterans need our recognition,” she wrote in an email.
“Thank you for doing this,” wrote Laura Dugger. “What a great way to show our veterans how much the are appreciated.”
Julie Pepi wrote, “Families of service members, and the service members themselves, appreciate support and recognition from the community.”
Bobby Raglan, a sergeant from the United States Air Force from 1964 through 1968, noted that Vietnam veterans did not receive respect that they deserved and were sometimes treated poorly because of opposition tot he war. He wrote, “I could count on my hand how many times someone said, “thank you for your service.”
Ragan added, “Today’s vets are heroes, but so were most of the vets from an era gone by.”
Oxford resident Randy Teel, who owns RNJ Plaques & Engraving, said that he thinks Kassidy's project is a very worthwhile one.
He explained that at one time Rick Loughery, the Chester County Recorder of Deeds, started preliminary work on instituting a special identification card for all veterans so that they could be recognized, but the effort was stopped when the state announced plans to issue special designations on drivers' licenses.
“I like this even better because we will have a record of local veterans,” Teel said. “I think it's important that we keep in touch with all of them.”
Teel, a member of the local American Legion for more than two decades, said that members of that organization are enthusiastic about the project, too.
“We're behind this one hundred percent,” Teel said. “And we're going to help her in any way that we can.”
Thanks to Kassidy’s project, the service by Oxford’s veterans from all eras will be recognized and remembered.
If you, a friend, or a loved one is an Oxford alumni and a veteran and would like to be featured on the display, contact England at email@example.com. A telephone message can also be left for Kassidy at the Oxford Area High School.
Community supports the effort
Kassidy England said that she has received a lot of help from various sources as she has worked on starting a display to honor U.S. veterans who have attended Oxford Area High School.
Randy Teel, the owner of RNJ Plaques & Engraving in Oxford, is engraving the names of the veterans on the plaque. He is offering a discount on his services to help keep the project more affordable.
Kassidy said that Laura Sperratore, who heads up the Wreaths Across America effort in Oxford each year, has been helping collect names of deceased veterans buried at the Oxford Cemetery.
Vernon Ringler, the president of the Oxford Area Historical Society, has also provided his assistance throughout the project.
A leading source of information has been Paul Andriole, the director of veterans affairs for Chester County who has long been an advocate for veterans.
Whenever Kassidy has encountered a stumbling block along the way she has reached out to Andriole and he has helped to find a solution.
The Oxford Area School District has also been very supportive, agreeing to serve as the home of the display. The school district will be publicizing the project in various ways in the coming months, and by agreeing to continue to collect names in the future the district is ensuring that the display will be an enduring tribute to local veterans.
“I really appreciate all the support that I’ve received,” Kassidy said.