Malakai, a first-grader at Del Sol Academy, chose the following words to describe his mother, who deployed to Africa with the U.S. Navy in June 2019 and is due to return in July 2020:
“Soldier.”“Saves people.”“Loves me.”
The Del Sol community loves Malakai, too – and has rallied around the boy, his mother and other troops serving abroad to safeguard U.S. freedom.Two teachers, Amy Ideker (first grade) and Melissa Lantz (fourth grade), recently led a campus-wide drive to collect donations to bundle into care packages for troops overseas.
The collection drive, Nov. 2 through Nov. 20, gathered items such as playing cards, jerky, lip balm, batteries, and cards and paper for letter-writing. The goodies will be sent to service members abroad through Operation Gratitude, a national nonprofit group that assembles and delivers more than 300,000 care packages a year, primarily to U.S. troops on foreign soil.
Such projects “help teach children to share while building a sense of empathy for others and the sacrifices some are making to ensure we all have a safe life,” said Del Sol Principal Maureen Stevens.
Malakai’s mother, Daisy Romero, serves in the military police as part of a command center that oversees safety patrols in east Africa – more than 9,000 miles away from Jurupa Valley, her family said.
Although the first-grader communicates with Mom often, thanks to Wi-Fi and Facebook, her absence is challenging, said Mario Rivera, Malakai’s stepfather.“This is a difficult time for Malakai,” Mr. Rivera said. “He is only 6 and he doesn’t always understand the situation. He does know that Del Sol Academy is doing Operation Gratitude for his mom and other soldiers, and that makes him really happy.”
Mrs. Ideker, who has led similar drives in previous years, said the idea to partner with Operation Gratitude initially grew from classwork related to Veterans Day.
“I wanted to help show my students how to give back to the community, and through our research we stumbled upon the Operation Gratitude website and decided to work with them,” said the teacher, whose father is a veteran. “This year, 2 the inspiration for the drive was to help Malakai and have a way to give back to his mom.”
While the classes that led the drive comprise about 50 students total, every Del Sol student was encouraged to participate – and many embraced the opportunity.
Lucas, a first-grader, said of the project: “It is very important. I want to help other people – soldiers especially. They work so hard to save lives.”
Asked how he would help, Alexander, a third-grader, answered: “I am going to help by donating. I plan on shopping with my family to buy batteries and lip balm. I also want to make them something that reminds them of their kids or family. Maybe I will write them a note to thank them for their service and for protecting me and my family.”
Programs such as Operation Gratitude support learning without limits: Students affect the world through charity, empathy and acts of kindness. They also apply classroom lessons to global projects – in this case, by researching background, writing opinions, and using math skills to count, measure and graph the items donated, Ms. Stevens said.
“It makes me happy because I miss my mom so much,” Malakai said of the support from his school. “I love her. I want her to come back.”
Added Mr. Rivera: “Del Sol is extremely supportive and Malakai’s teacher is wonderful for doing this for our child and so many other children. It is obvious how much the school cares for all kids.”