Often times, one of the hardest challenges soldiers have to face is homesickness. Soldiers can often be deployed for months on end, with little contact with their families and friends back home.
To fight this, Wayland’s Leeann Perkowski created the Students 4 Soldiers organization, a charitable program that sends care packages to hometown soldiers stationed across the world.
Perkowski says the organization was a result of her involvement in National American Miss, a national pageant program in which she has won numerous awards. Perkowski says the program, which pushes young girls to be the best person they can be, inspired her to contribute to a cause she was truly passionate about. Coming from a three-generation military family, Perkowski knew right away that she wanted to give back to hometown soldiers.
Students 4 Soldiers, which was founded in 2012 when Perkowski was just 11 years old, hosts annual charity drives where citizens can donate items to be sent to local soldiers deployed overseas and stateside. Perkowski founded the organization after seeing how overjoyed her cousin Branden, a former Marine, was when he received a care package from Perkowski’s parents.
“I just remember the joy on his face,” she recalled.
The drives, which take place in November and May, begin when donation boxes are placed at the Wayland-Cohocton school campus and the Dansville school campus, which much of the Dansville program being overseen by Perkowski’s associate, Cheryl Quibell. The organization accepts a variety of items, ranging from clothes and non-perishable goods to Christmas gifts and playing cards. Afterwards, the donations are collected, sorted, boxed up and shipped to military outposts across the world.
“They’re hometown heroes, and we’re showing them support from where they came from,” Perkowski said of the program’s importance.
The program, which is sponsored by the Wayland American Legion, has shipped over 8,400 packages since its inception, with many soldiers often sending back letters of gratitude.
“A lot of times, they will go out of their way to contact me or send me pictures of them receiving the boxes, and that is my favorite part of this program, because I just know that I’m doing something good for the world, and there’s a lot of people helping me do it,” said Perkowski.
Perkowski emphasized that every donation is appreciated, noting that “as long as there are a few donations, that’s fine by me, because I know my voice is being heard.”
“Together, we’re just making a life better, even just for a day, or for a week, or for a month, or for however long they’re deployed ... and I think that’s the greatest impact of my program,” she said.
The Students 4 Soldiers association can be reached by email at email@example.com, and the next drive will be occurring in mid-May.