SPRING HILL — Denise Disser received an e-mail from a friend that had a video with it showing people thanking soldiers.
Disser, 57, a food and nutrition associate at Deltona Elementary School, is also the adviser to the Student Wellness Advisory Council. The e-mail got her thinking.
"I think kids should be aware of what's going on," she said. Thus began the recent "Thank a Soldier Day" celebration at Deltona.
She involved the Student Wellness Advisory Council, which was formed to encourage kids to talk with other kids about eating well and exercising. For this program, they assisted with posters and decorations and, on the day of the program at the school, handed out student-written letters to the soldiers in attendance.
Disser's first stops were PTA president Dan Williams and principal Betty Harper.
Harper "was all for it," Disser said. "She hit the ground running."
Soon Disser and Williams were on the phone calling recruiting officers, the Sheriff's Office, county commissioners, the Veterans of Foreign Wars — anyone they could think of with ties to the military.
Even a couple of high schools became involved in the program. Springstead High School sent its ROTC color guard, and Hernando High culinary students baked a flag-decorated cake for the guests.
On the day of the program, May 28, there were two assemblies, one for kindergarten through second grade and the other for grades 3-5. The programs included student-written essays, thanking the military personnel, guest speakers and lots of hand-shaking. As students were dismissed, each child went past each military guest to shake hands.
The afternoon program included the color guard and the added treat of two kindergarten classes singing You Are My Hero.
"And there wasn't a dry eye in the house," Disser said. "Even the big, burly soldiers were crying."
The guests representing the military were Cadet 3rd Class Justin Tellekamp (Air Force), Sgt. Steven Rodriguez (Army), Sgt. 1st Class Patton (Army), Cpl. Arthur Davila (Marines, retired), Cpl. Robert Campelloff (Marines, retired), Petty Officer Bryan Beall (Navy), Staff Sgt. Eric Hurley (Air Force), Senior Master Sgt. Richard Leslie (Air Force, retired), Skip Larimore (Army, retired; junior vice commander of VFW Post 10209) and Dee Larimore (trustee of the Women's Auxiliary of VFW Post 10209).
The students chosen at each grade level to read their essays at the assemblies were Andrew Wilburn, 6, kindergarten; Alexia Pacheco, 7, first grade; JoAnn Luong, 8, second grade; Joseph Brescia, 9, third grade; Cora Griffith, 10, fourth grade; and J.C. Deloach, 11, fifth grade.
The School Wellness Advisory Council members are fifth-graders Anthony Valante (president), Stephanie Allen (vice president), Tucker Hollenbeck (treasurer), Shannon Zirk (secretary), Max Rashleigh, Lucas Frankel and Bobby Koebler. Fourth-grade members are Sarah Norford, Caitlin Plunkett and Jacob Cox.
After the assemblies were over, Disser said, "I was thanked profusely. It turned out very well."