Revitalizing patriotism

Sheffield students attend Spirit of America conference at Valley Forge

Photo submitted to Times Observer Walker Kyler, Carter O’Donnell, and Amy O’Donnell saw John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in Valley Forge early this month.

“An opportunity to lead, a chance to revitalize patriotism, a new perspective on defending your beliefs.”

That was the focus of the AMVETS Spirit of America Youth Leadership Conference at Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge, Pa., according to Sheffield Area Elementary School teacher Amy O’Donnell.

Two local students — Walker Kyler and Carter O’Donnell — attended that conference this month, chaperoned by O’Donnell and Judy Fry.

The foundation, established in 1949 by E.F. Hutton, Don Belding, Kenneth Wells, and Dwight D. Eisenhower to encourage engaged, responsible citizenship based on the Bill of Rights, promotes those ideals through the work of 30 chapters nationwide. They offer educational events and special awards programs, encouraging participants to “embrace their rights and responsibilities for the common good through fundamental lessons that encourage civic responsibility.”

Walker and Carter secured their spots at the November conference by entering the AMVETS “Americanism” poster and essay contest, which called for statements from students nationally on the topic “Why it is important to vote.”

Local AMVETS judged entries, with first-place winners forwarded to the Pennsylvania AMVETS to compete against statewide winners. From there, entries move to national judging and winners at the national level receive a trip to the conference in Valley Forge, said Fry.

“The conference is a four-day residential program for high school students with a Freedom Summit that explores the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights through debate and discussion,” she said. Workshops at the conference include leadership and character development. Around 100 10th graders from around the country attended this year’s conference, said Fry.

Both Carter and Walker, students at Sheffield Area Middle/High School, were among them. They arrived at Valley Forge on Nov. 2.

“Stepping onto the miniature campus, it was as if they were off to college,” said Amy O’Donnell.

After arriving and attending orientation and a meal, she said “the students were thrust into a variety of highly entertaining ice-breakers and team building activities. It was truly amazing to see a group of somewhat skeptical teenagers, an age group not always open to meeting new people, converse and almost immediately open up and join in willingly.”

On Friday, Nov. 3, students got a visit from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and they had an opportunity to hear Dr. Bruce Murphy, Civil Rights professor at Lafayette College, and Dr. Graham Lee, professor emeritus of Political Science at St. Joseph University.

A Medal of Honor worship service was presented by Dr. Cory Etchberger, son of Medal of Honor recipient CM Sgt. Dick Etchberger, who served in Vietnam. There was also a Leadership Carnival, swap meet, and ice cream social.

That Saturday, students went to Philadelphia to participate in a mock trial at the Criminal Justice Center and enjoyed lunch at the Reading Terminal Market. There was a guided history tour, following in the footsteps of American history and explanations of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Franklin Court, and Franklin Print Shop. Saturday evening students heard a lecture from Dan LeClerce on “Leading Significant Lives” and a Vesper and Signers Service at a revolutionary church.