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Students send valentines to troops, veterans

Daily News of Newburyport - 2/4/2019

Feb. 04--Thousands of heartfelt cards penned by students in Greater Newburyport school districts are being sent to active-duty military members, veterans and their families to spread kind messages this Valentine's Day.

Operation Heart to Heart, a national movement, encourages children and families to send valentines to deployed troops and soldiers at home. The annual event was founded five years ago by former Amesbury resident Rosie Werner, who moved to Florida last year. Donna Gray has taken over as the chairwoman of the Heart to Heart committee.

"Rosie gave me all the information I need to make this work and we had 2,500 valentines printed this year," Gray said.

While the valentines have been authored by Amesbury elementary school students in the past, the list of participating communities has grown over the years to include Merrimac, Salisbury and South Hampton, New Hampshire. The list recently expanded to include Newburyport.

School Resource Officer Megan Tierney worked with Officer Danielle Bower of the Amesbury Police Department to bring the program to Newburyport.

Last year, Newburyport students from the elementary and middle schools took part in the initiative. The program, now in its second year, has expanded to the high school, Tierney said.

"It's just simple, but it's a nice little piece for them," said Tierney, who helped students at Rupert A. Nock Middle School sign valentines during lunch.

"We do a lot of stuff with Veterans Day and things like that, so it's nice to see," she said. "It's signing a card at lunch, but it goes a long way."

Teachers seem to be "very appreciative" and students enjoyed signing the cards, Gray said. She added that valentines are given to art teachers to distribute to students. Depending on their age, the students can draw a picture or write a message, she said.

The valentines are preprinted with "From our hearts to yours on this Valentine's Day, we thank you for your service," Tierney said. Once students are finished decorating and writing messages, the cards are collected and will be proofed and boxed for shipping at a special Heart to Heart event at Amesbury Chevrolet on Thursday. The snow date is Friday.

The event has drawn area leaders such as Amesbury Mayor Ken Gray and state Rep. Jim Kelcourse, R-Amesbury, and former state Sen. Kathleen O'Connor Ives of Newburyport in the past. Gray said her husband, the mayor and Kelcourse will be on hand this year as well.

Officers from area police departments will be at the event to read cards, Tierney said.

"We have one table that will check the valentines over to make sure that there is nothing inappropriate, either in a photograph or in a saying," Gray said. "We also have another table where we have a list of all of our veterans, nursing homes and veterans hospitals, which we will be distributing them to."

Once the valentines have been proofed, they are then boxed and the Amesbury Police Department will distribute them to local veterans associations, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and senior centers. Tierney noted that some of the cards from Newburyport will be sent to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.

"It's so heartwarming to see everybody coming together for our veterans and to thank them and to wish them a happy Valentine's Day," Gray said. "I have always been in awe of some of the wonderful things children write on the valentines. It is always been a wonderful thing to be involved in, just to take a moment to say, 'Thank you.' I don't think it gets any better than that."

Newburyport School District Superintendent Sean Gallagher recently signed valentines with students at Francis T. Bresnahan Elementary School who thanked soldiers for "saving the world." He noted that having students sign the cards will help them to appreciate military personnel.

"Not only are the students reflecting, but there's a sense of pride of active kindness toward someone else," Gallagher said. "I think that's what's really neat, really thinking about caring for people in need ... . A random act of kindness just makes everybody feel good."

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully. Staff writer Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.

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