From the time he was a kid, Harry Evans knew he wanted to be an aviator.
But he didn’t know that, after Annapolis and deployment, it would be so hard to call home.
Evans, a 1999 Liverpool High School graduate and Willow Field Elementary alum, is now a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy, serving with the VFA-154 Black Knights, attached to Carrier Airwing 9 aboard the USS John C. Stennis. His ship is now in the North Arabian Sea, where it will remain for the next several months. Hoping to help his fellow servicemen get in touch with their families, Evans contacted his old alma mater.
“I’m hoping to collect as many prepaid phone cards as I can, so I can hand them out to these sailors for use in a future port,” he said. “After our first port, I realized how important the phone cards were. The USO was handing out free cell phones for people to use, but you needed a prepaid AT&T phone card.”
And phone cards don’t come cheap. Sailors have access to an onboard phone, but access is limited, and phone cards cost 50 cents a minute. In port, rates are even higher.
Evans’ mother Sarah got in touch with Sandy Lamirand and Karen Beale at Willow Field and asked for their help. The teachers, both student council advisors, immediately took the idea to the kids and their fellow staff members. The group concocted the Kids Walk to Talk fundraiser, in which all of Willow Field’s students would walk as many laps as they could around the front loop in a 30-minute period. The walk-a-thon was held on May 31. Students collected pledges for each lap walked or flat donations from sponsors. The money raised goes to purchase prepaid phone cards, which will be sent overseas.
“I knew I could count on my old alma mater to help support these guys and gals,” Evans said.
Willow Field was happy to help.
“We have other military families in the school,” said gym teacher Sally Morel, who helped organize the fundraiser. “It means a lot to them to be able to stay in touch with their families.”
And the kids enjoyed it, too. Some walked the whole time while others ran; one girl, said Principal Henry “Chick” Quattrini, ran the whole time, clocking three and a half miles. They also recognized the importance of the event.
“I felt good that we’re helping them,” said fifth-grader Charlie Capone.
“It’s good to know that I’m helping to give other people some relief,” agreed fifth-grader Julia Fuqua.
The school will know how much it collected later this week. Evans is happy to get whatever he can.
“The sailors in my command have been busting their hump day in and day out providing us (aviators) with mission-capable jets,” he said. “These young men and women work over 12 hours on the flight deck and in their shops making sure we can support the troops on the ground in Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. I’m just trying to help my troopers out, especially when some cannot afford to get cards to call home. I would love to be able to help these wonderful young men and women out.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.