Sitting in the car on the way back to Southampton from MacArthur Airport in Islip late in September, senior Christian Westerhoff, 17, knew that he could do more to support the local veterans in his community.Christian, who lives in Southampton, had just returned from serving as an Honor Flight guardian, escorting an 88-year-old World War II veteran, Vincent Curasi of Wantagh, to Washington, D.C., for the day to see the World War II memorial.
Overpowered by emotion, Christian began making plans to help local men and women serving overseas or who have already come back home. Last month, he officially launched the Mariner Patriot Club at the high school—a group of students dedicated to making sure that soldiers and veterans feel how grateful the East End community is for their service.
“I want to keep the community active when it comes to serving our veterans and active military men and women,” Christian said this week. “We come from a community that is very strong when it comes to feelings like this.”
So far, 100 students have shown an interest in the club, with approximately 50 attending regular meetings, planning future fundraisers, or reaching out in the community to help. Although the club is new, the members have hit the ground running and are already planning several events to benefit members of the military.
On November 19, Dubbed Patriot Day by the school, the club will host its first event, a music show with performances by high school students. Christian is in the process of reaching out to local Veterans of Foreign War posts to invite their members to the show. The school is also reaching out to local businesses to donate food for the event.
Christian and his classmates also will be collecting items to be sent to soldiers serving overseas this holiday season. The club will package the gifts and mail them by the end of the year.
Also in the works is a letter-writing campaign. Students have been asked to take a few minutes to write a letter to the military men and women and let them know they are being thought of back home. Several high school teachers are encouraging their students to participate.
“The kids are doing it because they know it is the right thing to do,” Christian said.
Since starting the club, he has been working with the high school principal, Dr. Brian Zahn, who Christian said has been instrumental in getting the club off the ground. Dr. Zahn traveled to Washington with Christian in September and escorted his own veteran that day. The principal said he is proud of the work the 17-year-old is doing and excited to see what the club will do.
“This is the first time since I have been here that we have had a patriotic-themed club supporting our troops and veterans,” Dr. Zahn said. “It was a great initiative that Christian has started, and I give him all the credit in the world. We both came back from our trip fired up, and Christian just ran with it.”
Christian said he has more ideas, including creating a wall of honor at the high school to celebrate Southampton graduates who go into the military, and raising money to lay wreaths at Calverton National Cemetery this Christmas. He also said he hopes to be able to make the club stable enough where it continues next year. As a senior, Christian hopes to go to college in Washington, D.C., to study political science and government.
Anyone interested in helping the club, either through donations for the care package drive or food for the November 19 fundraiser, should contact Dr. Zahn at 591-4602.
“Certainly, we learn a lot about past wars in our history classes, but Christian has brought about a whole new level of appreciation for our veterans,” Dr. Zahn said. “That is something that I am proud of him, and the club, for. It is definitely a newfound appreciation for what our veterans have done for our community.”