OSWEGO, NY – It is the season of giving. And, one local Girl Scout is giving to a group that truly deserves the attention.
Camille Graham, of Girl Scout Troop 41, is working towards her Gold Award. On Sunday afternoon, she hosted a Soldier Appreciation Day at the Oswego Public Library.
More than three dozen people packed into the Community Room for the event.
Some of her family members are veterans, having served in World War II and the Gulf War, she noted.
Camille is a senior at Oswego High School. She plans on attending college next year to study accounting and international relations.
“I guess my gold award project is called ‘Miles of Smiles’ and it is designed to raise awareness and support for our service men and women overseas,” she told Oswego County Today.com “The goal is to bring awareness to the needs of our troops serving overseas.”
The project will help get the service men and women items that they want and/or need and also includes a letter writing campaign.
“I hope to get people (especially young children and teens) to write to the men and women overseas to tell them that their work is appreciated and that our thoughts are with them and hoping that they will be home soon,” Camille said. “I thought that this was especially appropriate this time of year with the holidays.”
Camille collected dozens of items on Sunday. She added that there will be donation boxes at places like Wal-Mart, Price Chopper, the Big M, and hopefully at schools and churches.
One of the guest speakers at Sunday’s event was Terry Baum.
Her son, 1st Lt. Justin Baum, is a member of the 91st Battalion, Military Police, stationed at Fort Drum and is currently on duty in Afghanistan.
The former Eagle Scout told his parents how the Afghan children threw rocks at his troops. He asked his parents to send him toys and candy for the children.
Making peace with the children helps the Americans earn their trust, he said.
Terry and her husband, Jeff, have collected many toys, candy and supplies to send to the troops.
The Oswego Sunrise Rotary Club donated more than $120 to help with the cost of the postage.
Also speaking was Petty Office Dennis Orr, the Navy recruiter for Oswego.
He has been in the service for nine years, the first five as a military police officer in the Army.
“It is very imperative that (our troops) have civilian support,” he said. “Some members of the military don’t have a support system at home; which is why some of them decided to join the service. So a letter from a complete stranger, especially this time of year, is very important.”
The petty officer and his wife send letters and packages to the service men and women. They have often received thank you notes in return.
“It’s amazing what a little letter can do. It can change their morale, their whole life. And, it doesn’t take very much of your time to do,” he said.
In Iraq, Orr’s job was “to secure the routes” for the other service men and women. That meant driving a military vehicle about 10 miles and hour down the roads looking for IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).
“I know what Camille is going through because I am the mother of an Eagle Scout. It’s a great journey that you’re on,” Baum said.
She added that because of her son’s duty, she also understands what Orr said.
At times, her voice cracked as she was overcome by emotion.
Shortly after he deployed, her son was able to contact his parents and told them he and his men with being hit with rocks.
“He asked us to send him some toys and candy for the kids so he could accomplish his mission, she said.
The community of Mexico, where she formerly taught and her husband still does, and Oswego “just poured out to us,” she said. “We figured if we could get the kids on the soldiers’ side it would make things safer.”
The Mexico School District staff was a tremendous help. Price Chopper of Oswego has also been “extremely kind to us” recently donating a 25-pound box of Christmas gifts to the soldiers.
Among the many other donations were those from of her husband’s soccer team, Dr. Morgan & Oswego Family Physicians, the DSS in Mexico and even complete strangers.
“I’m sorry I’m losing it. But this is really close to my heart,” a tearful Baum said as she tried to acknowledge all the benefactors. “There’s a guy named Bob Williamson. I don’t even know the guy but I feel I know him because he sent the troops a microwave, refrigerator, a TV, DVDs and personal boxes of toiletries and other items.”
One group sent some golf clubs and 1,000 golf balls, she added.
“The support from the Mexico and Oswego community has been overwhelming. It means the world to my family. We can’t thank you guys enough. Saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem like enough.”
“What you’re doing here today, Camille, means the world to anybody who has a soldier over there,” Baum told the teen-ager.
Camille said she hopes to have even more items ready to be delivered before the holidays.
“Whatever anyone can donate will be greatly appreciated,” she said. “It might be something small, a box of cookies or a letter, but it really is a big deal for someone overseas. It means the world to them to know that the people back home are thinking of them and we support them.”
There homemade refreshments and activities for young and old.
Scouts also made holiday and thank you cards out of recycled greeting cards. They will be mailed to soldiers.
The Juliette Jingles (world famous Girl Scout band), comprised of OHS musicians, performed the National Anthem as the colors were presented at the start of the program. They also performed several holiday selections throughout the afternoon.
Anyone wishing to assist Camille’s project may contact her at 315-342-9138 or Sonia Robinson at 529-2751.