By Tom Tolen /

Over 200 cards and gift bags made by Brighton Area Schools students were recently passed out to military service veterans of all branches at the Ann Arbor Veterans Administration Healthcare System, more commonly known as the VA Hospital in Ann Arbor. The cards and gift bags were all personally designed and handmade by the 108 Maltby Student Leadership students at Maltby Intermediate School.

Although the “True American Hero Gift Bags” project was initiated by the Leadership program students, every student at the school participated, even virtual (online) students. The leadership program is led by Karen Storey and Jody Witte, who are both teachers and leadership coaches at Maltby.

Asked why this particular project was selected, Storey replied that she and Ms. Witte pick a project each month that is going to have an impact on the local community, the schools and the individual students. She tells WHMI, “The fact that our veterans willingly volunteered to serve our nation, and a cause greater than themselves, sets them apart from others in the community.”

The project is part of the “Pack of Dogs” program, which was started by Storey, who said they picked veterans as the recipients of the program this time because, in her words, “They truly are our American heroes….Our veterans voluntarily serve our country and we thank them for their service to our nation and community.”

A couple of the veterans expressed gratitude for the gifts from the Maltby students. One of them was Dan Reelitz, who said, “Please tell the kids that they made some grateful old grizzled veterans tear up when they read the notes,” adding that he was one of them.

Another thankful vet was Christopher Penney Sr., who was offered a gift bag from Maltby Intermediate School Leadership when he exited the medical center. He called it a “wonderful surprise,” saying, “You’ll never know how much your thoughtfulness meant!” Penney said he feels “blessed to have such fine medical care close to home, and blessed by the Brighton Area Schools!”

Top photo: Daniel Reelitz, who served as a 1st Lieutenant in Vietnam from 1968-70, displaying the two Purple Hearts he received along with other medals and honors, plus examples of the handmade cards given to the vets. Lower photo: The Maltby Leadership group, with a display of their homemade gift bags and cards in the shape of a heart.