In less than two months, the Hicksville Congress of Teachers put together a dance, music, singing and video salute to veterans that rocked the school auditorium. Their first-ever Talent for the Troops gave a voice to veterans, a shout-out to the hidden talents of teachers and raised a mighty $10,000 for the Wounded Warriors Project.
"The energy in the room was unbelievable," said Beth Atkinson, art teacher and co-organizer with English teacher Arthur Mediate.
The event took off as members searched for a positive action to shift low morale into a movement to honor veterans. "We wanted something to bond our whole union," said Atkinson, noting that members are separated by working in different buildings, and many are demoralized from constant criticism of public education.
"This was a way for us to say 'We're all in this together.' We wanted to give to our community and to the U.S.," Atkinson said. Many Hicksville CT members have family who served during times of war, or are currently serving.
Union members decorated the school lobby with red, white and blue ribbons. They pre-sold T-shirts designed by art teachers, and raffled gift baskets, many filled with original creations by teachers.
"Our school has not been so alive in years," Atkinson said.
An American sign language teacher signed the song "We Are The Champions" for the veterans; another teacher performed rap poetry about humanity; music teachers played a string ensemble. A teachers' band played rock and roll.
Teacher Courtney Wall contacted the local VFW and legislators to locate veterans. She videotaped their stories and added statistics about injuries and the aftercare veterans need. Her videos were featured at the talent show.
"This idea started at a grassroots level," said Joan Deem, president of the Hicksville local union. "We've created the culture to let great ideas become a union initiative. People have ideas and the union helps them promulgate that with networking, building contacts and funding."
Wounded Warriors helps veterans with emergency assistance, recovery, peer mentoring, outdoor retreats and economic empowerment. Hicksville teacher Mary Masterson wrote about the event on NYSUT's Its What We Do site — itswhatwedo.nysut.org/profile/hicksville-congress-teachers. The website features individuals and locals who help others through community outreach and education.