RUMSON – A club at Rumson Fair Haven High School dedicated to community service honoring veterans and started by three students three years ago continues to thrive through a variety of volunteer activities that bring attention to the sacrifices veterans have made throughout both war and peacetime for the United States.
The Veterans Appreciation Club was started by students James Greeley, Mike Cushing and Mike Ponenti during their 2019-2020 school year, with the mission of recognizing and giving back to veterans, military personnel, and the community in as many ways as possible. The trio who spearheaded the movement wanted to bring recognition of military to the high school students and give them the opportunity give back as well as to connect.
Students at all grade levels at the high school are invited to join and they maintain their membership through active participation in a number of different activities as well as monthly meetings. Currently there are about 30 members of the club who volunteer for activities ranging from candy drives to last week’s activity, when they participated in placing American flags on the graves of veterans buried in Bayview Cemetery in Middletown.
“Our club is all about giving back,” said junior Michael Schroeder of Rumson. A member of the club since he was a freshman, Schroeder said “ I love this organization and the students in it because we are all patriots who understand and appreciate what American veterans go through to preserve our freedom. We love this country and are eager to give back to those that protect it.”
And give back they do. During their regular monthly meetings, students discuss current events and make plans for ceremonies and activities including ceremonies for both Veterans and Memorial days,. Students also maintain their own wall of honor at the school for active duty military who graduated from Rumson Fair Haven. The meetings are held before the start of the school day and a variety of events are planned for throughout the school year.
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The accomplishments of the dedicated high school students in fulfilling their mission to give back to the community in recognition of the military is evident in numerous ways. They have collected and donated hundreds of pounds of candy for Operation Jersey Cares, an organization with which they partner to ship to active duty military all over the world; they maintain the Wall of Honor on a regular basis, updating as the need arises. Currently, the wall honors 17 graduates of the high school who are currently active as well as two who have completed their military careers. The club also invites its Wall of Honor honorees to revisit the school when they return to civilian life in order for the students to present each one of them with a personal picture or plaque in recognition of their service.
In addition to programs and activities on holidays honoring the military, students also invite military personnel, active or veteran, to speak at the school, and support the area’s Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts in ceremonies, parades, flag laying ceremonies, beach sweeps and more.
Approximately half the club’s members turned out early last Saturday morning to assist American Legion Post 141 in Atlantic Highlands with the flag planting activity at Bayview Cemetery. Students joined other volunteers in visiting the more than 600 veterans’ graves at Bayview, taking away torn and faded American flags placed last year, and replacing them with new flags. They then collected the damaged flags, removing them from their poles, and placing them in a box for their respectful disposition by the American Legion post.
The Veterans Appreciation Club advisor Eric Zullo is himself an example of giving back to the community and an enthusiastic and hard working advisor for the teens. Zullo, who teaches Physical Education and Health, is also Head Ice Hockey coach, Girls Golf Coach, and Surf Coach, in addition to being Veterans Appreciation Club advisor.
“These Veterans Appreciation Club members are not only respecting our fallen heroes, but also learning first-hand the sacrifice these men and women have made for our nation” said Legion Post 141 Commander Peter Doyle. “Seeing them so respectful, hardworking and eager to accomplish the mission of ensuring each veteran at Bayview Cemetery is honored and remembered gives me great confidence we are leaving the nation in respectful hands with our local teenage volunteers. We are all very grateful and appreciative of their service.”