Reading, traveling and learning new things are at the top of my list of favorite things to do. Fortunately last weekend, I was able to do all three…and in sunny Arizona to boot! I made the journey from D.C. to “the Copper State” to represent the Veterans History Project (VHP) as keynote speaker at a reception and book signing for the Northern Arizona chapter of the Veterans Heritage Project, a non-profit organization that connects Arizona students with local veterans.
I spent the weekend in awe. Maybe it was the hot weather, which, as I’ve mentioned here before, I absolutely love. Maybe it was the relaxed pace—other than at the airport; no one seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere. Everyone I met, from young people to adults, was super kind, engaging and seemingly genuinely interested in hearing what I had to say. In other words, things were just a tad bit different from life on Capitol Hill. What a difference a three-hour time zone change makes. Refreshing!
The “other VHP” is a stellar example of how educators and their students can take participation in the Library of Congress Veterans History Project to another, even more-meaningful, level. Founded in 2004 by Barbara Hatch, an Arizona high school history teacher with a heart for veterans, the Veterans Heritage Project’s mission is to provide students from diverse backgrounds with an enriched educational experience by connecting them with U.S. military veterans in a nationally renowned oral history and publication program. Hatch retired from teaching a few years ago, but spending the day with her last weekend, I couldn’t tell. Her level of dedication and connection to the students, veterans and regional coordinators is as strong as ever. The energy she pours into this project must be contagious, because everyone I encountered was as enthusiastic as she.
The Northern Arizona chapter is the fourth and newest region in the state to take on Hatch’s vision. Like all the other VHP volunteers across the nation, the students conduct veterans’ oral history interviews and submit them to us along with the required forms. But that’s not all. Afterward, each of these students writes a thought-provoking essay about the military experiences of the veteran he or she interviewed. That essay, along with photographs of the veteran and hand-sketched illustrations, are then published in an annual hard-covered book titled, “Since You Asked.” So not only do these students become historians who contribute primary source materials to the nation’s library, they also become published authors and illustrators.
As if that isn’t impressive enough, after publication, each veteran featured in the book is invited to a regional reception where they can once again connect with their impressionable interviewer, receive an official word of thanks and autograph copies of the book. It was really inspiring for me to see these hometown heroes being treated like the celebrities they are.
I was honored to be there to witness the other VHP, a well-oiled machine, in action.
Three receptions down and two to go! After the large reception at Arizona State University West for Phoenix Edition I (91 veterans), the Tucson reception, and the Northern Arizona reception at Embry Riddle that Lisa attended, we will travel to Show Low, Arizona, on May 12 (the town got its name in a card game) to honor its veterans and students, then finish on May 15 back in Phoenix at the Elks Lodge for Phoenix Edition II. We are proud to archive over 200 veteran stories with the Veterans History Project this year alone, over 1200 in the past 12 years, through the hard work of over 1,000 students. We thank Col. Bob Patrick, Director of Veterans History Project since its inception, for his encouragement and hospitality each time one of our teacher advisors took his or her students to DC, and are grateful Lisa Taylor could come to us on April 23 to support our growing program in Northern Arizona. With an energetic Board to locate more funding, we hope to bring our model to more schools, perhaps even in other States!
Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, speaks to the importance of the Veterans Heritage Project.
“…and history just doesn’t get better than that.”
Thank-you Lisa for coming to our first ever Northern Arizona Reception and Book Signing and taking an interest in our first Northern Arizona edition of Since You Asked. It was great to meet you after having met Colonel Bob Patrick last June! Our students and veterans present were honored to meet you, and we look forward to future correspondence as we continue connecting students with veterans in Northern Arizona!
Thank you Lisa for presenting the first keynote address for the Northern Arizona Reception! We were thrilled that you could join us and look forward to many continued years of partnership in preserving and honoring our veterans and their oral histories. The Veterans History Project schools that make up the Northern Arizona group of VHP chapters include Chino Valley High School (lead publishing school), Flagstaff High School, Show Low High School and our first ever university, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. We welcome additional Arizona middle schools, high schools and universities who would like to learn about our after-school chapter program and join in our efforts to help students develop patriotism, civic-mindedness, and respect for service, as they become informed, responsible citizens and future leaders.