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April 3, 2009

Freshmen volunteers pack “care” into overseas packages

University Seminar freshmen recently prepared dozens of care packages that will soon be shipped to Louisiana servicemen and women stationed in the Middle East.

The students also donated money to defray shipping costs through Any Soldier Inc., a nation-wide program launched in July 2003 when the parents of a combat infantry soldier serving in Iraq began sending additional care packages to “any soldier” who wasn’t receiving regular correspondence from home. The organization has expanded to include marines, airmen, and sailors.

The community service project is part of the one-hour course required of all incoming freshmen at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

Barbara Michaelides, director of student retention at ULM, said the students are given guidelines of items the soldiers want and need, such as phone cards, toiletries, candy, magazines, DVDs, books and food.

“The students have been generous,” she said. “And, of course, letters that the students have written themselves, sometimes with photos of the class, are often included.”

“We are always impressed with the enthusiasm that our FRYS (Freshman Year Seminar) students show in regards to community service,” said Mary Elizabeth Sewell, coordinator of first-year experience.

“They really value the opportunity to give back to the community and feel like their efforts allow them to make a difference,” said Sewell.

Angela Ross leads one such freshman seminar class, which meets every Tuesday and Thursday in the library, and includes some students who know firsthand what it feels like to have family members serving far from home.

“It is very thoughtful, just to let them know we appreciate their sacrifice,” said freshman Melissa Brown of Monroe, whose sister and aunt serve in the military.

Others, such as Deborah Ramos of Columbia and Kristin Licata of New Orleans, expressed surprise and disappointment that so many soldiers rarely receive care packages without the support of groups like Any Solider Inc.

“It really opens your eyes,” said Ramos.

The community service project to support Louisiana soldiers, now in its third year, is held each spring semester during University Seminar, according to Ross.

University Seminar integrates academics and conviviality through the use of interactive learning that involves group activities and a variety of other techniques. It is customized for the student’s college and/or major and is paired with one of the student’s core classes.

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