by Martin McConnell
For the fifth straight year, students from the Cuyahoga Valley Career Center asked the community to sponsor wreaths for the graves of fallen veterans as part of the national “Wreaths Across America” program on Dec. 17.
Forty students across four profession-related classes collected about 800 wreaths this year. They traveled to the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman, Ohio, to place the wreaths and honor those who gave their lives for the country.
“We’ve taken it upon ourselves as a community service project to be one of the groups that tries to get sponsorships for wreaths,” said Jerry Koenig, CVCC power equipment instructor.
The power equipment, construction trades, and education profession programs have worked on this project since 2018. Koenig said CVCC’s fire and EMS classes joined the other students in working on the project this year.
Even with the impressive number of wreaths, Koenig explained that the classes have higher expectations for one of the school year’s largest service projects.
“We always put our goal at 1,500 wreaths,” Koenig said. “Last year, I think we had 1,378, which was a pretty good year. This year, with the economy, we were a little low, but that’s okay. The effort was there, and I’m very proud of the students.”
At $15 a wreath for sponsorship costs, the students were able to bring in $12,000 this year. Koenig said that any extra money, along with one dollar back from each wreath sold, went towards other school service projects such as annual food drives.
“The students will go out and buy food with it,” he said of the extra funds. “One year, we actually went to the veterans’ hospital down in Cleveland [with] service bags for the veterans. We went down the halls and went into rooms and thanked the service members, and handed them a nice little gift.”
As a former member of the United States Navy, Koenig said that this project hit especially close to home for him.
“My own brother and my mom’s husband are also buried out at Western Reserve,” Koenig said. “[It’s] really, kind of what sparked us. It sparked my wife and me. … I said, ‘I’m going to take this into school, and we’re going to run with this.’”
According to Koenig, the students have embraced the project head on. It continues to grow in scope year after year, and he is overjoyed with what his students at CVCC have been able to accomplish.
“It’s humbling. It’s really humbling. It actually brings tears to my eyes,” Koenig said. “Just to see the effect on the students, and the passion they have for it, it really hits me deep.” ∞