Amidst the hustle and bustle of end of the year festivities, the Pilgrim High School Class of 2014 still took time out to support local veterans.
Last year, the class held a 5K race for Bella DiPalma and Elanna Zuller, two Pilgrim students who were tragically killed in a car accident at the beginning of the year. After the huge turnout and, with the sponsorship of local businesses, the Class of 2014 decided to hold another race, but this time for a different cause.
“I was the one who initially brought up the military,” said class secretary Brianna Tuscani. “I said, ‘Let’s do it for a cause.’”
The event was held June 22.
Tuscani has close ties with veterans of the military. Her grandfather fought in Vietnam, and she has many cousins and uncles who have served in the Air Force and the Marines. One cousin was a Special Forces veteran and now works with veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Once the decision to help veterans was made in the fall, the problem left was to find a fund to donate to. Luckily, class advisor and special education teacher at Pilgrim Traci McGuire had an answer.
“I know somebody who works for Homes for our Troops,” she said, “and when the kids brought up that they wanted to do something for the troops, I brought them up.”
Homes for our Troops is a national non-profit, non-partisan group founded in 2004 that builds specialized homes for those who have come home from war with serious injuries, such as loss of limbs, paralysis and traumatic brain injury.
The organization introduced them to Marine Cpl. Kevin Dubois. During his second deployment to Afghanistan, he stepped on an IED and lost both of his legs at the hip. Dubois grew up in Lincoln, which was important to the students.
“We like that he’s from Rhode Island,” said Tuscani. “It was a state pride sort of thing for us.”
The juniors started planning the event in the fall.
“We, as a group, like to donate to other causes and help out,” said Sara Bloodworth, the Class of 2014’s second advisor. “Last year, the money we raised for the girls went to their memorial funds.”
In a press release from Homes for our Troops, Dubois expressed appreciation for those who are supporting him.
“Having a specially adapted home will benefit me greatly because it will help improve my daily living challenges … it will improve my life overall, making me more independent and it will give me a better quality of life. Thank you for supporting me.”
Tuscani believes that by working with Homes for our Troops, she and her classmates have learned things they would have never learned otherwise. In an interview prior to the event, Tuscani said she would like to work with them again in the future.
“I’d like to one day volunteer for them and see what I can do to help out,” said Tuscani. “I appreciate what they’re doing. A lot of the members of the committee have learned what it’s like to host an event like this. And we always hear ‘Support Our Troops,’ but now I feel like we have a better grasp of what that is. Whenever the news is on, I pay more attention to the troops.”
This year, the proceeds were split between the students and Homes for our Troops to help build Dubois’ new house in Burrillville. Ground has already been broken on the corporal’s home and money toward its construction is coming from the non-profit. The donations from the race will allow Homes for our Troops to take another veteran off their waiting list. The other half of the money goes to fund class events such as prom, senior trip and senior banquet. The class committee will also put the money toward adopting a family during the holidays to assist in purchasing gifts and food.
The students received donations from several local sponsors. Cosmic Pizza, Watermark Realty, Stop & Shop on Quaker Lane, Texas Roadhouse, Palazzo’s Italian Deli, Top of the Bay, and Chill Out Loud were some of the many businesses that offered their support. Sponsorship included everything from cash donations, water bottles for the racers and gift cards to be raffled off.
The race was held in Warwick City Park on Saturday, June 22. According to Bloodworth, the Class of 2014 made about $1,740, $1,170 of which went to Cpl. Dubois’ new home. There were a total of 52 runners. Matt Pelletier, a Pilgrim teacher, came in first place for the men and Marge Bellisle came in first place for the women.