By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
FONDA -- Standing before the fourth grade students of the Fonda-Fultonville Elementary School on Wednesday, Jim Yermas asked them to imagine what their Valentine's Day will be like today.
Then he asked them to put themselves in the shoes of a veteran who's being treated at the Albany Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
"A lot of them don't ever get to go home again, and don't have any friends or family left, so imagine what it would be like for them to get a valentine, and from a young person," said Yermas, the commander of the American Legion Post 701 in Amsterdam.
Some veterans won't have to imagine it, because the fourth graders crafted colorfully-decorated valentines to thank the service men and women for their sacrifices.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, reached out to the school Tuesday to participate in the nationally celebrated Valentines for Veterans project.
It supports more than 98,000 veterans who are cared for in VA medical centers, outpatient clinics, domicillaries and nursing homes, according to the department's website.
Santabarbara enlisted the help of Yermas and Skip Warner, the post's vice commander, to talk to the students Wednesday during a presentation at the school gym. Yermas said Santabarbara initially asked the post to accept the notes.
"But they're the ones who need cheering up," Yermas said of the patients at the VA hospital. "Some of them never get visitors."
Santabarbara told the students in a ceremony at the school Wednesday he'll be dropping the notes of appreciation at the VA hospital in Albany today.
School Principal Thomas Ciacco said the project was served up to the fourth graders as part of their annual community service project.
"A lot of the time, the students don't get to see the fruits of their labor, but today they were able to salute some local veterans, and I think [Yermas] sold it to them perfectly," he said.
Fourth grade teacher Meg Hoffman said the project was a perfect match.
"The kids really like Valentines Day, because it's an opportunity to make someone's day. This opportunity came up, and it couldn't have been a better idea, because a lot of the kids have family members who served in the military, and they're proud to talk about it."
One of those students is Mackenzie Lewis, whose father, grandfather and uncles have all served.
"My card said thank you for your service, and keeping my family and our school safe," she said. "It's nice to do something for the veterans. I've gone to the hospital before to spend time with them, and we sang them songs. They said thanks and gave us hugs."
The effort Wednesday and today is one of Santabarbara's first outreach projects as the newly-elected assemblyman of the 111st District, which spans Montgomery, Schenectady and Albany Counties.
Having served in the military himself, Santabarbara said he requested appointment to the Assembly's Veterans Committee.
"Veterans in this country seem to be overlooked, even though they've sacrificed a lot," he said. "Even when Memorial Day and Veterans Day pass, it doesn't mean we don't have to stop thinking about them, and I think we've proven that today."