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Uwharrie Charter middle schooler Isaac Garcia delivers cards at the Veterans Day Parade.

Vet program thrives at UCA

In 2014, students at Uwharrie Charter Academy began designing and writing cards for veterans. Today, more than 5,000 cards have been delivered around the world. 


Ten years into the school’s project, Blakely Scearce shares how these students are engaging differently in Veterans Day.


When you think of Veterans Day activities at most schools, it is often a one-hour assembly. You picture students sitting in a gymnasium, the national anthem being played or sung, the principal talking about the importance of the holiday, and teachers and students with veterans in their families standing to be recognized.


However, students and teachers start preparing for Veteran’s Day at least a month in advance at Uwharrie Charter Academy. 


Blakely Scearce started at Uwharrie Charter Academy in August, 2014. Almost immediately, she was creating a way to reach out to Veterans to thank them for their service.  


“I worked at schools that sent thank-you cards to Veterans with connections to the students; I thought our school, with more students, could reach more people,” she said.  


Initially, she wanted students to mail cards to Veterans; however, due to privacy concerns, that idea was tabled. With the help of the English department and the art teacher, she broadened her idea and the scope of her project.


“We invited the Advanced Art class to design the cards; in 2014, the art teacher and I selected the best designs and had them printed,” Scearce said. “Then, English and History teachers taught a letter-writing mini-lesson and we had students write thank yous to Veterans. 


“We brought cards to the Veterans Day Parade, the American Legion and sent them to the VA Hospital in Salisbury, NC. And every year since then, the project has gotten a little bigger.”


In 2015, Uwharrie Charter began inviting veterans to speak to students about their experiences in active duty.


 “It was important for students to develop a relationship with the people to whom they were writing,” Scearce said. “They became more invested in the project and feel connected to their work. There are men and women of all ages from all branches coming and talking to the students.”


SSG Philip Wallis, United States Army Ret., has been sharing his experiences with the students since 2015.


“Typical questions are: ‘What did we eat?’ ‘What was our job?’ ‘What is it like jumping out of an aircraft?’ ‘What kind of weapons have we shot and which was our favorite?’ “ Wallis said.


“The students like to hear ‘war stories.’ This project is exactly what a non-military base community needs. I support this project fully.” 


Scearce adds, “The students listen intently, and they’re thinking about and internalizing the answers, making emotional connections with the presenters.”  


After the presentations to the middle school are finished, the Veterans select the illustration that will be used on the cards the students write.


“The creativity and their depictions of military service and patriotism never cease to amaze me” Wallis said. “I keep every year's cards in my desk drawer.”


Lee Haywood has been the middle school art teacher since 2015, and has worked with Mrs. Scearce for eight of the nine years of the project's existence.


“It has been a joy to work with Mrs. Scearce on this project over the years at UCA middle,” Haywood said. “When our students create artwork for the Veterans Day card contest, you can tell they are passionate about the men and women that they are honoring. 


“We once had a young man who set his goal to win the card competition by the time he left middle school and during his 8th grade year he drew an amazing depiction of the American flag being raised over Iwo Jima. He was so proud to get his image printed onto the 500 plus cards that the students use to write their thank you letters.”


It’s also an honor for Veterans to receive the cards. Chloe Douglas wrote cards in sixth, seventh and eighth grade; in 2018, she was surprised by a response.  


“Dear Chloe,

“My name is Ormie Rich, I was in the Army and was in Vietnam. I got your card at the Veteran Day Parade in Asheboro. It makes me proud when great kids like yourself recognize what it really means. Your parents should really be proud of you. I wish you the best of luck in school, and in life. Keep being a great kid and study hard.

“Best Wishes, Ormie Rich.”


Sergeant Chuck Cook (US Army, retired) received a card in 2020. “I found this unsolicited piece of mail in my mailbox today. When I read it I cried. Thank you, Uwharrie Charter Academy, and thank you, Skylar. Let me also offer my thanks to my comrades who wore the uniform.”


The first year that Uwharrie Charter students participated in the project, about 300 students participated. Now in its 10th year, twice as many students participate. Scearce believes that 5,000 cards have been written and delivered by her students; they are now shared across the country and around the world.  


Dr. Sharon Castelli says, “As Superintendent and an AF Retired Master Sergeant, I know firsthand how powerful this program is, not only for our students but for the military members that receive this special card of support. These cards provide a sign of hope  and respect that is needed as many military members may need a reminder of their ‘why.’


“As an administrator, seeing how engaged these students are over this program reminds me of my ‘why.’ Additionally, I have enjoyed being a guest speaker for this program. It shows our students that serving in the military provides them other options such as providing education, providing a skill, assisting in growing my family, and providing an experience that I will always treasure. This opportunity is all because Ms. Scearce wanted to enhance the students’ and the military members' experience, and for that, UCA will be forever grateful.”