Summit Middle School teen led inspiring project to support U.S. soldiers
Senator David Long (R-Fort Wayne) led a celebration honoring Alison Mansfield, an Allen County teen-ager who literally put words of her fifth grade school essay into action helping American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Long joined Prudential Insurance’s Michael Bowers in presenting Alison with the “Prudential Spirit of Community Award” for her two-year effort at collecting large quantities of personal care items, cookies and letters of support for soldiers.
“All of Indiana is really proud of you for the way you took the initiative on this project and for the heart you showed in creating it for our troops and their families,” Long said.
A seventh-grade student at Summit Middle School in Allen County, Alison will join Lafayette’s Brittany Oliver in taking an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., in early May, where five middle school students and five high school students will be chosen from a national field of 102 to determine America’s top youth volunteers for 2008. Each student also receives a $1,000 award. The Prudential Spirit of Community Award represents the largest youth recognition program in the country based solely on volunteer service.
Alison’s parents – Dr. Dennis and Michele Mansfield – were present for the Statehouse ceremony. They said that in a teen-age world often distracted by computers and video games, this project was a tremendous experience for their daughter.
“It was a good lesson to see her interact with soldiers who are thrilled to get a bottle of shampoo or a simple pair of socks,” Michele Mansfield said. “I don’t think you can trade any history lesson in school for this.”
It all began when Alison learned of a severely injured soldier through her church. She later visited the soldier, Sgt. Paul Statzer, in Walter Reed Army Medical Center / Malogne House, who had severe facial injuries after a bomb attack in Iraq.
“To hear him talk about his trust in God and say he would do this again to serve his country really inspired me,” Alison said.
Alison’s school project suddenly became a mission that would have her:
work with several airlines and restaurants to solicit letters for servicemen and women; spearhead an effort through her Girl Scout troop that resulted in over 550 boxes of cookies being sent to troops; set up a letter-gathering booth at the county 4-H Fair; and ask hotels and dental supply companies to donate soap, shaving gear, sewing kits, coffee, toothpaste and brushes, lotion and other items.
Alison said she even got to speak to airline passengers over a pilot’s public address system, asking passengers to write letters to soldiers during the flight. Everything collected was sent to military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan as well to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Alison’s project was the subject of a December feature story in USA Today. That article reported how she spearheaded a drive that rounded up thousands of pairs of socks to send to soldiers patrolling the cold, wet mountains of Afghanistan. To date, 5,048 pairs have been collected and more will soon be shipped.
“She’s received thank-you notes from soldiers there,” her father said.
For Alison, the true reward comes not in a Senate resolution or special award, but in the knowledge that soldiers like the one she met in the hospital know people back home really care.
“Just the attention it’s bringing to the troops is special to me,” Alison said after receiving congratulations from Sen. Long. Long was joined in co-authoring the resolution by Sens. Tom Wyss and Dennis Kruse (Rs-Fort Wayne).
Also at the celebration were grandparents Dallas and Sandra Grinstead, aunt Sara Fritz, and cousin, Zach Fritz, who joined Alison as a Senate page shortly after the award presentation.
Alison said other teens could do similar projects and offered this advice: “Don’t think you can’t do it. If you spread the word, people will help you.”
Sen. David Long (R-Fort Wayne) is President Pro-Tem of the Indiana Senate. He serves District 16, which includes portions of Fort Wayne.