On April 20, South Carroll High School will hold its first Military Appreciation Night to benefit veteran service organizations and recognize the sacrifices made by veterans and their families.
The event, presented by the National Honor Society — South Carroll Chapter, will take place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in the school's auditorium. It will feature a silent auction with gift baskets from various area businesses, presentations about famous heroes given by NHS students and a recognition ceremony, during which veterans in attendance will be honored with a certificate.
Monetary donations will benefit the Travis Manion Foundation, a veteran service organization that aims to assist veterans and their families through various programs designed to empower and support them. Clothing donations will be given to the Purple Heart Service Foundation to be sold for funds to provide services to veterans in need.
The event is the brainchild of senior Taylor Boeckmann, who is the secretary of the National Honor Society — South Carroll Chapter and a member of the South Carroll ROTC.
"Over the summer, I went to a leadership candidate program at the Naval Academy called Summer Seminar, and while we were there … we got a presentation from the Travis Manion Foundation and the story just kind of hit me and I took it home with me," he said.
Boeckmann was so touched by the story of fallen hero Travis Manion and of the foundation founded in his memory in 2007, he said, that he felt the need to plan an evening of recognition for veterans as one of the honor society's annual events.
"Our students are required to fulfill so many volunteer obligations as part of being a National Honor Society member," said Lois Tiffany, academic facilitator at South Carroll High School and the school's NHS club adviser. "Sometimes we plan the events; sometimes we participate in events that are already planned."
For this event, Boeckmann, who hopes to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point after graduation, didn't hesitate to take charge.
"I researched [the Travis Manion Foundation] more and they have programs set up and they have examples of events they did and I kind of followed what they did and figured out what would work for our school," he said.
The event is free to the public, though donations of money and/or clothing items are encouraged. Tickets aren't required, but Boeckmann said he asks that coordinators be notified if service members are planning to attend so they can be properly recognized.
Several students, most of whom are in the National Honor Society, have worked together to make the evening a reality. Some have created the presentations to honor veterans, some have worked to gather donations for the silent auctions, and others will serve as ushers for the evening. But the majority of the work, Tiffany said, has been done by Boeckmann.
"Taylor has definitely taken the lead on this project," she said. "He's very motivated and it was his idea and we allowed him to be the point person, so when we have meetings, he's the person running the session."
It is Boeckmann's passion for the cause, Tiffany said, that has brought the event to fruition.
"When he first approached us, we were like 'we have our activities for the year,' but he was so passionate and so motivated and willing to do all the legwork that we thought we'd give it a try," she said. "He's done such great work and such detailed work that, honestly, it's one of the most exciting things that we've done all year."
Derrick Morgan, manager of marketing and communications for the Travis Manion Foundation, based in Pennsylvania, said the organization is "very excited" about the event.
"I think, for us, it shows that the presentations that we do and the programs that we have are making an impact, because he took the initiative to reach out to us and he saw how what we do affects so many other people in a positive way, so, for us, seeing him as really the next generation of leaders, he's already making an impact and he's still in high school — that is just beyond impressive," he said.
Boeckmann said he hopes Military Appreciation Night becomes an annual event at the school. And, he said, he hopes he can be a part of it, even after graduation.
"Part of what we're doing is trying to set up and formalize it and make sure we can do something similar year after year," he said. "If I had time and I could get back home and help out, I definitely would. It means a lot to me personally just because of what I want to do. Through ROTC and high school, I know a lot of veterans in the area and I know a lot of service members, so I have a more personal connection with them … and absolutely, I'd love to come back and help out."
Boeckmann applied for the Naval Academy this year, but was not accepted. He said he hopes to attend West Point for a year and then transfer to the Naval Academy in 2016.
His work in organizing the event, and his passion for the cause it represents, has resonated a great deal with those around him.
"We think the world of him," Morgan said. "He's very impressive; he seems very polished."
But to Boeckmann, the work he's doing is just an attempt to ensure veterans are given the recognition they deserve.
"I just think that we don't recognize them other than holidays as much as we should, and it shouldn't be on Veterans Day or Memorial Day or July 4 that we should be thinking about the freedoms we practice every day of the year, and we just wanted to formalize that and put together a night for people who have locally and globally affected us and protected our freedoms."
If You Go:
What: Inaugural Military Appreciation Night
Where: South Carroll High School auditorium, at 1300 W. Old Liberty Road, Winfield
When: 6:30 to 9 p.m. April 20
Cost: Free; Monetary and clothing donations are requested
For more information: To learn more or reserve seating for service members, email firstname.lastname@example.org.