Abigail Panariso, 13, of Las Vegas, Nevada, a member of Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada and an eighth-grader at Thurman White Middle School, donated more than $1,300 last year to buy eight new wheelchairs for veterans traveling on free “honor flights” to Washington, D.C., organized a letter-writing campaign that produced more than 500 letters thanking them for their service, and recruited hundreds of people to welcome them back home after their trip. When Abigail’s grandfather returned home from serving in Vietnam, he did not receive the warm welcome that greeted previous generations of soldiers. “It was the opposite,” said Abigail. “This inspired me and I knew I had to do something to show our veterans how we haven’t forgotten and that they are very much respected and appreciated.”
As a volunteer for Honor Flight of Southern Nevada for four years, Abigail had noticed how the wheelchairs used for transporting elderly veterans in the nation’s capital were breaking and were very heavy. So with $1,250 she had earned from selling Girl Scout cookies, along with donations from friends, she purchased eight lightweight all-terrain wheelchairs. Then she asked teachers at her school for help in getting students to write appreciation letters for the veterans. The most difficult part of her project, Abigail said, was rounding up people to be at the airport when the veterans’ plane landed. Swallowing her fear of public speaking, she made appeals at her school and church, at Boy and Girl Scout gatherings, and at a local congresswoman’s town hall meeting. When the day of the return flight arrived, the veterans disembarked to the cheers and applause of hundreds.