Volunteer spirit

Saturday, February 2, 2002

THEBES, Ill. -- When a local family was burned out of their uninsured house last year, Lisa Hale called out the Thebes Junior Volunteers. The 17 youths began knocking on doors and collected $368 to give the family.

Through bake sales, selling tickets to win groceries they donated, and a Memorial Day picnic carnival where they operated booths and a bingo game, they raised $200 to help pay the insurance on the village fire truck.

Now the volunteers are bringing The Wall That Heals, a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., to Thebes.

Hale and another adult started the Thebes Junior Volunteers last April to provide youths with something to do in a village of 478 where most agree there is nothing for children and young teens to do. The village has two parks. One is restricted to residents of the government housing project. The other one by the river has a rundown ballfield, but the village has no teams. The little bit of playground equipment is broken.

All Thebes children go to Egyptian School, a 12-mile bus ride.

"We just ride the bus and stay home," said 11-year-old Edelmira Osorio.

Democracy in America

The four adults now involved write checks and provide transportation but do not control the Thebes Junior Volunteers. It's a democracy. The youths, who start each monthly meeting by saying the Pledge of Allegiance, vote on which projects to take on.

They've had some fun with the money they've raised, including a trip to the theme park at Santa Claus, Ind., last summer. "Not many people here get to go on vacation," Hale says. Her dream is to take them to Disney World someday.

The volunteers also took a field trip to a hospital in Cape Girardeau to learn about CPR and to the Cape Girardeau Fire Department.

But most of the projects they pick attempt to improve their community. "That's what makes it so good," says 14-year-old Erin Edwards. "It's helping the town."

Last August, 16-year-old member Ida Osorio wrote a letter to officials at The Wall That Heals. Osorio wrote that her grandmother has never gotten to go to the memorial in Washington, D.C., to see her son's name. Joyce Hale's son, Gary Schemel, was killed in Vietnam in 1966.

"I wanted the younger kids to learn about history," Osorio said, "and the elders to see the wall." She asked if The Wall That Heals could come to Thebes.

The affirmative reply arrived a month later stating that nobody so young had ever made such a request. The wall is scheduled to be erected at the ballfield from Aug. 28-Sept. 1.

Need $2,200

A visit by a monument that travels by tractor trailer is not free. The cost for a stay is $4,500 plus expenses for two employees who escort the wall from town to town. The Thebes Junior Volunteers also are required to have a walkway around the wall. They'll have to build one.

The Alexander County Historical Association has donated $3,600 toward the project. The Thebes Junior Volunteers have placed collection jars in restaurants and at other locations as far north as St. Louis. They still need to raise $2,200 to pay for everything.

They have opened the Thebes Junior Volunteers Thrift Store to raise money. It is the only store in town. They plan to set up a roadblock to get donations and to wash cars. They also wrote to 14 VFW and American Legion posts in the region. So far two have responded with donations.

Dick Withers of Withers Communications has been helping the volunteers publicize their Vietnam wall project. "You're changing the course of America," he told them at a meeting Friday night when he awarded Ida Osorio a fine pen to encourage her writing.

The Thebes Junior Volunteers have established a bank account for the project at the Alliance Bank in Cape Girardeau. Donations can be sent to: Alliance Bank, 217 N. Kingshighway, P.O. Box 1458, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-1458. Checks should be made out to "The Wall."

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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