Dakota Valley Elementary student Vinny Poitra wears a R.E.D. shirt every Friday, and it got his teacher’s attention.
“Vinny shared with me that R.E.D. stands for Remember Everyone Deployed,” explained fourth-grade teacher Jeff Heroux. “He wears the shirt every Friday to keep his brother in his thoughts.”
Vinny’s brother, Joseph Calomino, is a United States Marine who is currently serving in the Middle East.
“Vinny really looks up to his older brother and having him deployed is hard,” Heroux said.
So Heroux asked Vinny to help him with a class project on empathy, which is defined as “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”
“As a class, we are talking about what it would be like to have a family member deployed,” Heroux said. “Vinny is always happy to share his feelings and updates about his brother.”
Heroux said his students have become so invested in the empathy project, they decided to expand it by filling care packages for Joseph Calomino and 20 other Marines in his unit. With some help from Vinny’s mom, Jen Borland, who is part of a Marine moms support group on Facebook, every student in Vinny’s class was paired with a particular Marine.
“I thought it would be better for the kids to see who they were sending a package to, to make it a little more personal,” Borland said. “The students’ pictures are in the packages too, so the Marines can see someone who’s thinking about them. It’s pretty cool.”
So on Friday, Nov. 16, wearing R.E.D. shirts donated to the class by Jen Borland, Vinny and his classmates filled and decorated the care packages. Several students’ parents came in to help and there was an air of excitement as the students selected a variety of items to send to their Marine. There were cans of ravioli, healthy snacks and sweet treats, which the Marines miss during lengthy deployments. There were also personal care items, including toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, shaving cream and cough drops.
The students packed and repacked, trying to fit as many goodies as possible into each box. Then they added a personal letter to their Marine and decorated the outside of the box, often with stars and stripes and other patriotic designs.
Vinny and his mother are grateful for the students’ support of the troops, and Jeff Heroux is thankful Vinny and his family were willing to share their experience as part of the empathy project.
“Vinny has demonstrated an incredible passion for his brother’s service and for all veterans and active duty servicemen and women,” Heroux said. “He has helped our class learn some very valuable lessons.”