Operation: Appreciation a meaningful tradition at Central Junior High School

Chrissy Weaver, a Central High School graduate, shows Central Junior High students how to stand “at ease” during a “boot camp” in which students learned how to stand at attention and receive commands Friday during the school’s Operation: Appreciation. Students were able to meet and learn from dozens of veterans during the event. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 10, 2017 9:40 pm Updated: Nov. 10, 2017 10:46 pm

CAMP POINT, Ill. -- By name, it is Operation: Appreciation, a Veterans Day event hosted by students of Central Junior High School.

Beyond that moniker, however, is a meaningful tradition that has evolved over the years and is embraced by all the occasion touches.

Veterans of all ages and branches of the armed services spend time, mostly in small groups, talking with and answering questions from the junior high kids. There are also demonstrations and interaction on a variety of levels.

The veterans, who are invited guests of the school, all receive a warm welcome from a student body that has helped deck out the junior high in a collection of appreciative signs. The veterans even receive complimentary breakfast, lunch and an assortment of presents, including the gift of song from a school choir.

It's a way of one generation saying, "thank you" to another in a most heart-felt fashion.

"We know that freedom isn't free," said Garret Williams, a 14-year-old eighth-grader.

The sincerity of the youngsters is not lost on veterans such as Don Wallace, who was a military police officer in the Army from 1955-61. Wallace was one of 55 veterans who took part in the program on Friday.

"An event like this is important to a veteran," he said. "It makes us stand a little taller."

Amanda Shoopman, who teaches seventh-grade English and literature, has helped organize the event each year since 2008. Her husband, Nathan, is a member of the Army National Guard.

"The first year we did this, we had 15 veterans," she said. "Last year, the number had grown to a record 60. Most years, we'll have about what we do this year, 50 to 55."

Shana Hunt was probably the youngest veteran on hand at age 28. She was especially proud to be a part of the event since she is a Central graduate.

"This is wonderful, because there are so many veterans in this area," said Hunt, a staff sergeant in the Illinois National Guard who in 2008 was deployed to Iraq for a year.

Hunt was visibly moved by some of the responses she encountered.

"Some of the kids just want to hug you," she said. "Vets are treated like royalty in this area, and because I went to high school here, this was even (more special). It was great to be back."

There was no hesitation in the voice of Kaleb Post, 14, when asked what the most important item was he would take away from Operation: Appreciation.

"It helps young kids realize what these veterans have done for us," the eighth-grader said.

A mutual appreciation also was evident with veterans sucha as Wallace.

"If they ask me, I'll be glad to come back," he said.

It's probably a safe bet Wallace can count on that invitation a year from now.