AKRON, Ohio — With about 900 students, about half of whom came to this country as refugees from some 20 other nations, North High School in Akron is perhaps one of the most diverse schools in Ohio.
“Most of these students are from refugee camps. Many of their family members and their parents have been living most of their life in a refugee camp and a lot of our students were born in refugee camps.” explained Kelly Dine, a Biomedical Science Teacher at North High and a U.S. Navy veteran.
Four years ago, a student whose family member is also a veteran, wanted to pay it forward and decided to create the project, “Jars of Inspiration.”
On Thursday, about 20 students, many of whom literally credit the service of U.S. military veterans for a chance at a new and better life, visited some of those veterans at the Harry Donovan Jr. Valor Home of Summit County, serving the veterans there a culturally diverse lunch and offering them thanks.
Among them Tam Chau, a student who came to the United States with her family from Vietnam.
Chau spent her lunchtime visiting and exchanging stories with a U.S. veteran of the Vietnam War.
“I would like to say thank you for their service and they were so brave and they are my hero,” said Chau.
“I want to do something in the community to show that I appreciate what they are doing. I appreciate what they have done for our country for me to be living here,” said Soma Ya, a student originally from Burma who grew up in Thailand.
“Most of them have seen some unspeakable things. Usually they were living in a refugee camp because they were fleeing, fleeing for their lives in many cases, fleeing dictatorship. So here in the United States they are the hardest working, most grateful students I have ever worked with,” said Dine.
The rewards from the exchange are mutual.
“This is really an honor to have them come here and sit and speak with us and talk to us, maybe learn a little bit about where we have been and what’s going on. Plus, the food is fantastic,” said U.S. Navy Veteran John Wagner.
In addition to sharing stories and a meal, the students also shared the handwritten, heartfelt messages through their “Jars of Inspiration.”
Clear jars in which 250 students from the school have written messages that the veterans can draw each day to help them understand that their service did make a genuine impact on the lives of others.
“It means to me that we are not left behind. People still look out for the veterans. They care about us and that they have heartfelt thanks for us,” said U.S. Army Veteran Wendall Brown.