Erin Stancel pointed to her green vest covered in patches and pins, showing off the Bronze Award stuck to it. She earned that award after many hours of community service as a Girl Scout, but she and her friend, Emma Pruitt, didn’t simply stop at that award. They took things a step further.
Erin, 11, and Emma, 12, both part of Troop 3314 in Dacula have handed out 400-plus thank-you cards apiece to veterans. Their original goal was to hand out 50, but they have continued the project — more than a year after they began — after finding joy in honoring veterans.
“It just makes me really happy to see that I’m making others happy,” said Erin, a Junior Girl Scout. “Plus, I also kind of get them. I don’t get noticed much in school, so this is a way for me to show that I notice others.”
Although the majority of the cards are handed out in public while they’re at grocery stores or restaurants, Erin attended a celebration of life in Flowery Branch Dec. 29 to honor a World War II veteran who died at 93 years old.
“Being able to go to the service the other week was a very memorable (experience),” said Laura Stancel, troop leader and Erin’s mother. “To show that the young people care … I think to see kids in service and learning is what we need more in the future.”
Erin and Emma spend time while at meetings, and even more time at home, writing, drawing and sometimes adding stickers on cards to be handed to veterans. Most say something like, “thank you for your service” or “God bless,” written in red or blue.
They try to keep cards with them at all times so whenever they see someone with a veterans hat or licence plate — which Erin said is getting much easier to spot — they’re able to place it on the windshield of the parked car or shake the veteran’s hand.
“I was very nervous the first time I passed one out,” said Emma, a Cadette Girl Scout. “I’m a shy person and I don’t like expressing myself to other people.”
But she passes them out anyway because she said it helps her remember her grandfather, a Marine who died last year. Emma said he was at the Veterans Affairs hospital for a while, so she passed out cards to other veterans there while she was visiting him.
For Erin, it reminds her of her grandfather, who’s retired from the Air Force, and her uncle, an Air Force reservist.
Despite their connections to military service and veterans,It’s not always easy passing out the cards. Emma said sometimes, veterans aren’t open to talking about their time in service. She and Erin have had to learn how to be OK with that and still thank them. Even in those sorts of situations, their efforts are oftentimes still noticed.
Stancel said one time, she and Erin were out together and didn’t have any cards with them when Erin noticed a man in a Navy shirt.
“She still went up and said, ‘Thank you for your service,’” Stancel said. “His wife came up to me and asked if that was my daughter and I said, ‘Yes.’ And she goes, ‘What you’re instilling in her is an amazing thing because we’re shaping the future and bringing them up.’”
Through passing out the cards, Erin and Emma have learned a lot. Apart from skills like speaking to people, shaking hands, making eye contact and others, they’ve learned what it means to be a veteran and the difficult things many veterans have been through.
“Some people don’t realize how important and how much these people are risking their lives to go out and fight for our country,” Emma said. “They just think it’s something to go do and it’s over and you just come back home, but it’s way more than that.”
“They deserve more than one day,” Erin said. “Not just Veterans Day.”
Each card handed to a veteran is another chance for Erin and Emma to show their appreciation. And it’s a sight Stancel enjoys seeing every time.
“It’s a thrill,” Stancel said. “It’s like a small adrenaline rush of love.”