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Heather Weller distributes a thank-you card to a local veteran. Submitted photo.

NY Mills student honors veterans across United States

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Heather Weller, a sixth grade student at New York Mills Elementary School, is finding national attention for her efforts to honor and thank war veterans for their service to their country.

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Weller visited her great uncle Phillip Andrie, a Korean War veteran, on his 80th birthday at the Veterans Home in Fergus Falls. By talking with him and other veterans, she came up with the idea of sending them personalized cards.

She hand-makes personalized cards for veterans and has touched hearts in 101 different towns from 15 different states.

Inspiration

Her class visited the traveling Vietnam Wall and learned a lot through an essay in Doug Salo's fifth grade class last year. The essay focused on Prisoners of War and soldiers Missing in Action.

This past Veterans Day, she visited the Fergus Falls Veterans Home and delivered a speech to the veterans on why she began the project. She distributed her 85 hand-made cards and read one of her e-mails aloud to the veterans.

Weller's work has inspired students from kindergarten through sixth grade. The students all created cards, posters and letters for the veterans, which were distributed along with her cards.

"There were hundreds and hundreds. It was very neat," said her mother, Kristi Weller.

Spreading the word

Heather did a special 4H project at the County Fair this year entitled "Thank a Veteran." She set up a blank-page book for visitors to sign and received over 50 messages to send along to veterans.

"She's collecting them everywhere she can," her mother said.

On Nov. 10, she was featured on KVLY for her efforts. On Veterans Day, WDAY featured her story for the second year in a row.

"She was very poised," her mother said.

Honors and awards

Heather was honored at the state level for an Arbor Day poster contest in 2010. When she was in third grade, she won a poster contest for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

The Veteran's Home in Fergus Falls awarded her with an MVH Gold Star, a Minnesota Veterans Home award usually given for five or 10 years of service.

The Minnesota Landscaping Association held a ceremony at NY Mills Elementary for her efforts. Swedburg Nursery of Battle Lake donated the tree, and Birds, Blossoms & Beyond planted it.

Weller also received an "Above and Beyond" medal from the NY Mills Lions Club.

"I was proud, glad and honored," she said of receiving the award.

She received a standing ovation from Lions members as well as their wives, who attended the ceremony and received roses.

Project New Hope

Heather has been working extensively with Project New Hope Director Bruce Billington, who asked her to be part of the advisory board for the program.

Project New Hope offers a haven for veterans and their families of both the United States and Canada.

According to their website, their mission is "to provide veterans and their families the education, training and skills necessary to manage their lives after wartime service."

Thoughts and

feelings

"I wish more kids my age understood how much they went through and sacrificed. Some adults don't understand what they went through, either," she said of war veterans.

As for the men and women currently serving in Afghanistan, Heather said, "They're very brave. Most people wouldn't go to risk their lives."

Staying busy

Outside of her continued efforts to honor former and active servicemen and women, Heather is actively involved in 4H, dance, band, basketball, two softball leagues, volleyball, tennis, ballet and Just For Kicks.

She has recently set up a new Facebook page entitled "Thank a Veteran" and encourages people to join.

Heather extended a special thanks to the NY Mills school system and 4H program for all of their help.

For more information on Project New Hope, please visit their website at www.projectnewhope.net.

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