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Bethel projects aimed at brightening soldiers' days

By Staff
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
Being a military wife and having lived with her husband overseas for six years, Addene Matthews remembers the loneliness that comes with being in an unfamiliar land without your family and friends.
She also remembers the joy of receiving a note from home, which is why she started a letter writing campaign with her first and second grade students at Bethel Baptist School last year for soldiers fighting the war abroad.
"The letters are a wonderful way for the students to understand that these soldiers are real people," Matthews explained. "It also helps the kids realize the sacrifices our soldiers make and relate better to the war itself."
Twice monthly, Matthews' class writes and sends "batch letters" to two soldiers who are related to two of her students.
Capt. Eric Harrelson, currently serving in Iraq, is better known to student Rachel Peacock as "Uncle Bear." William Cartee, currently serving in Germany and awaiting deployment to Iraq, is the uncle of student Aaron Cartee.
"We send all the letters directly to these two men and ask them to share the letters with any soldier who didn't receive mail that day," Matthews said. "It's a great opportunity to brighten a little piece of someone's day and also fits well into our curriculum. The students form sentences, use vocabulary words, and practice their handwriting and art skills in each letter."
Students recently had their own day brightened when Matthews shared return correspondence letters to students Rachel Peacock, Andrew Dodd, Mitchell Gamble, Zachary Lewis, Kayla Lucas, Bram Miller and Colter Calhoun. The letters were the first her students have received from any soldier this school year.
How are you? Did you have a good holiday? Do you drive a tank? Do you go to church over there? Are you scared?
Soldiers answered these and many other questions Matthews' students have posed in their letters. Some even drew artwork of their own, sent photos holding the letters they received, and included their personal military addresses in hopes the students might continue to correspond.
"I know God is with me," one soldier wrote. "Thank you for keeping me in your prayers."
Matthews has proudly displayed the letters on a wall outside of her classroom for the entire school to see under a banner reading "We Got Mail."
"It brought tears to my eyes to stand before the class and read the soldiers' letters and realize how much our letters touched them," Matthews recalled. "To know our letters from here were appreciated there, it's just amazing."
Matthews said she and her students plan to keep writing to the soldiers as long as they are away from home.
"We're glad to share," Matthews said.