Kelly Garcia teaches Spanish to students in kindergarten through 12th grade in Mullen, Nebraska

Kelly Garcia teaches Spanish to students in kindergarten through 12th grade in Mullen, Nebraska.

Her lesson plans for her teenage pupils also includes community involvement, engagement and outreach.

And through the myriad maze that is the vast network of organizations that reach out to deployed troops around the globe, Kelly Garcia from Mullen, Nebraska, with a population (500) that makes Port St. Joe seem a metropolis, came into contact with Semper Fi Sisters, based out of Gulf County.

Garcia and her students in turn engaged in the drive by the Semper Fi Sisters, during their fourth annual Beach Blast next week, to pack 1,000 “Boxes of Love” to troops in war zones, providing a personal portion of Midwestern potion to those care packages.

And Garcia reflects on it all as just part of the school week, the school year for a teacher who through a phone line conveys the passion and desire to touch troops and young lives that drive so many of the Sisters, wives, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, cousins of soldiers deployed around the world, with every branch of the military.

“It really was all accidental,” Garcia said of her connection of Semper Fi Sisters. “Things happen for a reason, I guess.”

The journey from Nebraska to Port St. Joe was indeed circuitous.

Garcia and her classes participate in the Flat Stanley Program, which takes the pen-pal concept to another level. The basic principle is to connect a child, student or classroom with other children and classrooms around the world that participating in the project.

They become connected by creating and sending a “flat” visitor – Flat Stanley is a series of children’s books – that looks like a human and the kids track, talk and write each other about the journey’s their “flat” visitors have taken.

Garcia’s class connected to a class in Mexico, where Garcia used to teach English. Her students were able to write and speak to their “class-pals” in Spanish.

“It was good for them,” Garcia said. “Each student basically makes a paper doll. It is really a fun and educational way to be connected to another classroom in another part of the world. The kids have a lot of fun.”

Valerie Ostrom, mother of an Air Force son, hosts an online Facebook page “Parents of a Son or Daughter in the Military” which sponsors four card/letter writing campaigns to troops each year.

Ostrom’s group partnered with Flat Stanley and schools to expand the letter-writing campaigns and Garcia met Ostrom.

Garcia’s classes “adopted” a soldier each of the past three years – the current “adoptee” is due home from overseas this week – and kept in touch with letters and cards.

“The administration at the school has bent over backwards to support us,” Garcia said. “We’ve never met the soldiers we’ve adopted. We’ve seen each other on Facebook, so the kids can make that connection.”

When Ostrom mentioned to Garcia that the Semper Fi Sisters had a goal of packing and shipping 1,000 “Boxes of Love” – that number has grown astoundingly from 24 boxes the first year, over 300 the next, nearly 750 last year – Garcia was dumbfounded.

 “I wondered you have got to be kidding me. One thousand?” Garcia said.

Garcia perceived that cause as another opportunity for her ongoing lessons on citizenship. She rewards extra credit to her students based on what could be called community service.

“I give them those sorts of extra credit opportunities all the time,” Garcia said. “Everybody can participate. It is good them. Good for their insides, good for their character.”

Garcia proposed extra credit for collecting 100 pairs of socks to be donated to Semper Fi Sisters.

The socks were collected in mere days and Garcia points out that Mullen is hardly an affluent area of Nebraska. The nearest city of any size, the nearest Walmart, is over 70 miles away.

 “The students were the real push behind all this,” Garcia said. “They don’t need the extra credit, they just want it. After all the socks were in I had to come up with something else. They wanted that extra credit.”

Next idea, Garcia said, was providing over 100 cards to go with the more than 100 pairs of new socks the students had collected. So the students set to work on personal cards and notes to the troops.

“The homemade, that personal touch, is so important,” Garcia said.

One hundred cards proved a snap and Garcia was now wondering what would be appropriate to pack to the troops so she could get these students the extra credit they kept pushing for.

Ramen noodles, 100 individual packets of Ramen noodles were the answer.

“By golly, I had them in three days,” Garcia said. “It was amazing. I overheard one student on the phone with her grandmother who was at Walmart and wondering what was needed. The student told her to pick up three dozen packs.”

The boxes of goodies were sent off weeks ago to become part of the packing party which will end the Sister Fi Sisters Beach Blast next Saturday at the Centennial Building.

The lesson plan will reverberate for some time among Garcia’s students.

“I think this was a great project and I hope they get the message,” Garcia said. “That is what Flat Stanley is really about, being connected to the world, communicating with other people. The students need to be tolerant. They need to be good communicators.

“By example, I hope they learn.”


Donations are still needed to pack and ship 1,000 “Boxes of Love” next weekend during the Semper Fi Sisters Beach Blast. The shipping party will take place Oct. 20 in the Centennial Building. If you would like to donate an item or money for shipping please visit Centennial Bank has drop boxes at its locations in Port St. Joe, Wewahitchka and Mexico Beach and donations can also be left at Harold’s Auto Parts in Wewahitchka.