The Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation and Redskins Salute hosted Salute to Redskins Read at Creighton's Corner Elementary School with students having the opportunity to write letters to military stationed overseas and interact with special guests.
To close out the inaugural Salute to Service week, the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation and Redskins Salute teamed up with four Redskins Cheerleaders and Ambassadors (Carissa, Katy, Nikki and Rachel) as well as Air Force Colonel Beth Larson to host Salute to Redskins Read at Creighton's Corner Elementary School in Ashburn, Va. on Thursday, November 17. The event provided 260 4th and 5th grade students the opportunity to hear a celebrity read aloud, receive new books for their classrooms and write holiday letters to military men and women stationed overseas.
4th & 5th grade students in the Redskins Read Program had a guest reader and spent time with Redskins Cheerleaders writing Thanksgiving letters to military men and women overseas.
Creighton's Corner is one of 117 elementary schools enrolled in the 2016 – 2017 Redskins Read Program, which focuses on a reading and writing playbook for students to study the X's and O's of different books of their choosing throughout the school year. Each month, a top-performing school is selected to host a special event with Redskins celebrities and November's event also allowed the school to honor the military in a special way.
Colonel Larson is currently the Director of Operations, Plans and Requirements for the Air Force District of Washington (AFDW), Joint Base Andrews, Md. For the students, the opportunity to spend time with her and the Redskins cheerleaders was a widely anticipated experience.
"There's so much focus on [reading programs for] the lower grades," Megan Buck, Reading Specialist at Creighton's Corner, said. "I think it's nice to have [the Redskins Read program] for the upper grades to give them a little push before they go to middle school, something to look forward to and build their reading stamina and keep them excited about it. It's been really cool to have this experience."
After the students arrived in the gymnasium, many wearing team gear showing off their Redskins spirit, Colonel Larson and the cheerleaders introduced themselves and shared their personal connections to the military. Colonel Larson also showed the students her flight equipment and allowed students to try on her gear.
To follow the military theme of the day, the cheerleaders joined her in reading an excerpt from Max: Best Friend. Hero. Marine. by Jennifer Li Shotz. After the book teaser, students went back to their classrooms and were visited by the cheerleaders and Colonel Larson, who presented each classroom with a brand new stack of books for their classroom libraries, including a copy of Max. The Redskins celebrity visitors also helped students write a letter to active duty military members who will be overseas for the holidays.
"It's great. I love any opportunity to talk to and hang out with kids," Colonel Larson said. "Our relationship with the Redskins has been fantastic at AFDW, just phenomenal how open they've been to the military and supportive. It's a strong relationship whether we're supporting them in flyovers or sending out the honor guard. And when they come out and do the training day with us it was really wonderful. Like I said in the auditorium, getting letters from kids, it makes or breaks a week, a month for some these guys and women. Any opportunity we get to do this and thank the community for supporting us is a good one."
The letters that the kids wrote were each unique and expressed their hopes that military members, who cannot make it home for Thanksgiving or the holiday season, know that they will be in the students thoughts. Many also thanked them for their service and acknowledged how much their strength and commitment meant. A letter written by a fifth grader named Christiana included, "Just remember, never give up. You are strong and you have a lot of courage inside you."
The experience of writing these letters was very personal for the students and the guests as a significant amount have family in the military.
"My husband is military, he's in the Coast Guard," Carissa, a Redskins cheerleader, said. "I definitely know firsthand what it's like to have a loved one not home for the holidays and I know how much these little notes or packages, something so small to someone else, really does make such a difference. My brother was also in the Navy, he was overseas for a while. There were times when he missed holidays and everything and there were times when he received these [letters] and I really do know how much they mean to them."
For Colonel Larson, getting to interact with these students was a way for her to see just how important these moments are.
"It validates why I went in the Air Force to begin with. It was to serve my country and provide freedom and protection for these people," Colonel Larson said. "Having been in the Air Force for 27 years and doing staff work in Washington D.C. for the last eight, you lose that. Anytime I can get back out with regular people, and see their eyes and their hope and that they genuinely appreciate what soldiers, sailors, air men, marines do for them, it makes me feel really good."