Study of New Hampshire veterans spurs drive to help them
LONDONDERRY — When the students in Kelly Giguere's Adult Education class read Simon Wiesenthal's "The Sunflower" last fall, many began asking questions about the moral and emotional dilemmas faced each day by men and women in uniform.
The story shares Wiesenthal's experiences while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, where he was called to the bedside of a dying SS officer who wished to confess his crimes to a member of the faith he'd once persecuted.
Wanting to explore the topic further, Giguere approached Londonderry High School's computer support specialist Roger Sampson, a Marine Corps veteran, to assist in bringing together a five-member veterans' panel to meet with her students.
The panel, which Sampson himself participated in, was a huge success and the students' interest in veterans' causes didn't stop there.
Soon after, the students made 150 thank-you cards for area veterans. About half of those cards were given out to veterans attending the high school's Veterans Day Breakfast last month.
With many cards remaining, Sampson reached out to staff at the Dalianis House, a former furniture store in Nashua that's now serving as a transitional shelter for 40 homeless veterans.
As part of Harbor Homes' Veterans FIRST Transitional Housing program, the Dalianis House, along with three other facilities around the state, assists veterans and their families for up to two years, giving them the chance to pursue employment, fight substance abuse and further their education in a safe, supportive environment.
Sampson delivered the cards to Nashua on Veterans Day. During a tour of the five-floor facility, he learned that the organization could use some help.
"They needed pots and pans, they needed blankets and sheets," he said. "Things that most of us take for granted."
Michelle Cool, program director for the Dalianis House, said the program is in constant need of new or gently used bedding, kitchen utensils, small appliances and other household items, as well as laundry and bath supplies and personal products.
Returning to work the next day, Sampson reached out to Giguere and LHS Principal Jason Parent, asking them to help him organize a school-wide collection for the Granite State veterans' facility.
Support for the collection quickly grew, with dozens of students, teachers and staff members jumping in to lend a hand.
Members of the school's National Honor Society donated their fall fundraising money to Harbor Homes, while students in the Community Service and Athletic Leadership clubs, along with those in the Adult Education program, began pitching in with donations.
Special education teacher Daniel Alexander's students happily agreed to help sort out the steady stream of donated items coming in, loading up three large trucks bound for the Nashua shelter.
"It became quite the community effort," Sampson said. "Just a wonderful whirlwind of support that doesn't seem to be slowing down."
The items were delivered to Nashua on Nov. 26, but donations continue rolling in. Sampson said he'd see to it all future donations are brought to the Dalianis House.
Harbor Homes President Peter Kelleher said that as the program continues to grow, so does the need for donations.
Over the past several years, Veterans FIRST has helped 480 veterans obtain employment and placed over 300 veterans and their families in permanent homes.
"None of our programs would be possible without the support and generosity of community members," Keller said.
Plans are currently in the works to host another school-wide goods drive in time for Memorial Day.
Those who wish to donate goods to the Dalianis House may contact Sampson at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Veterans FIRST program, visit www.harborhomes.org/veterans-first.