Even when assistant principal Jim Hendricks was deployed in Afghanistan thousands of miles away from Burke, the Lake Braddock Secondary School community found a way to stay close. The "Help Mr. Hendricks Help the Soldiers" donation program, a food, toiletries, phone cards and clothing drive that Lake Braddock student government members sent to Hendricks' unit in Afghanistan, continues to grow even after the assistant principal's return.
"The impact was incredible," said Hendricks. An attached medic with the 3/116th Infantry of the Army National Guard, Hendricks left Lake Braddock on March 1, 2004 and returned in late August 2005 after his 18-month tour.
"It was a long time to be away," said Hendricks. But his wife, two daughters, and Lake Braddock friends and students provided support both emotional and tangible, sending cards along with the packages overseas.
ACCORDING TO student government sponsor Kathy Williams, many of Hendricks' students wanted to find a way to help him out while he was overseas. They
"We've collected an amazing amount of supplies to go over to Jim," she said. When Hendricks returned, he brought back a Powerpoint presentation with photographs of his unit and the people who lived in nearby villages. Seeing the pictures motivated the staff and students to continue the drive, said Williams.
The pictures made an impression on eighth grader Komal Dhir. "There were kids without shoes, schools that were just dirt with a board to write on," said Komal, 13. "When he showed us the pictures, I was like, 'Wow, these are regular people, everyday people who have nothing.'"
In Afghanistan, Hendricks' favorite thing to do was civil affairs missions traveling through the villages. In the rural areas, he said, people live in mud facilities without running water. When the unit had overflow donations, he said, they began taking them to the villagers, who were appreciative of the packages.
"They were very, very excited," said Hendricks. "[The donations] had a huge impact."
This year, Lake Braddock extended the scope of the drive to include items like toys, hygiene products and shoes specifically for the Afghan people. These collections will also benefit a women's and children's clinic started by the unit that replaced Hendricks.
"We take so much for granted," said Komal. "Like chips. Or shoes."
Likewise, the soldiers appreciated creature comforts that were hard to come by in Afghanistan, said Hendricks, such as Twizzlers or Pop Tarts.
"You just couldn't find this stuff there," said Hendricks.
TO ADVERTISE the drive, students constructed dozens of fliers and a giant banner to hang in the hallways, said 8th-grader Sebastian Flores. The response has been fantastic, he said. According to Williams, Lake Braddock students have shipped between 20 and 25 boxes of supplies to Afghanistan so far this year. In the 2004-05 school year, around 60 boxes made their way overseas.
The large boxes donated by Interstate Van Lines fill up quickly, said Komar. "It was great how much stuff there was," she said. "When I say they were huge boxes, I mean I could fit in them."
Projects like the Afghanistan drive give students a sense of accomplishment and teach them about the value of community service, said Williams.
"The eighth-graders are at a time when in their civics classes they are required to do service hours," she said. "It's nice to provide activities at school where they can get hours. And it's fun."
"It's a good experience, being able to know that you are giving stuff to the soldiers," said Peter Bixby, Lake Braddock eighth-grader. The students plan to continue the shipments until the war in Afghanistan is over, he said.
Sebastian, 14, said he hoped the packages from home would helped boost the soldiers' morale. "The soldiers are out there fighting for us and for freedom," he said. "They had to leave their families and go out there, into the hot weather."