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State Honoree

Photo of State Honoree Jessica Benson

Jessica Benson

South Dakota

Jessica Benson, 14, of Rapid City, S.D., an eighth-grader at West Middle School, makes, collects and distributes holiday cards for active military members and veterans. Jessica, who has several relatives who are veterans, wanted to do something to thank servicemen and women for their sacrifice, and also get fellow students involved in community service. "I feel military members are people we need to respect and honor," she said. In addition, "I feel that it is very important to teach our youth that there is always something they can do to get involved." So when Jessica heard about the Red Cross's "Holiday Mail for Heroes" program, she knew what to do.

She began by purchasing supplies such as construction paper, markers, stamps, stickers and blank cards so that she could set up card-making tables at her school, church and community events. She then put together a PowerPoint presentation explaining the different branches of the military, and began speaking in classrooms to recruit participants. In addition to encouraging others to make their own cards, Jessica placed collection boxes around town, and partnered with a summer nights program. Within a few months, she had collected more than 400 cards for the Red Cross program. "I will never forget one man who stopped at a booth to make a card," Jessica said. "He told me how he received a card at Christmas when he was stationed in Afghanistan, and how great it felt to have something from home and to know he was appreciated. This moment was the reason I did this."