By Maja Peirce
-Barbara Hatch and Carl Pignoli are working with the veteran and student communities to provide better understanding and stronger connections while also providing educational and employment assistance to military families. This is their way to pay it forward for the future of our country.
-Hatch is a retired World and American history teacher. She officially began the Veterans Heritage Project at Cactus Shadows High School when she still taught in 2004. However, her passion for connecting students to veterans’ stories began in 1998 when the movie Saving Private Ryan hit theaters and she brought veterans into her classroom who had been at Normandy to speak about their time serving.
-Hatch is now the full-time program director of Veterans Heritage Project, which expands the program to schools in Arizona, with a pilot program in Florida. The teacher advisors coordinate student-led interviews with veterans and publish several editions of a book entitled Since You Asked of the stories they uncover. The book preserves stories that allow the public to understand what people close to them and in their community have done to protect their freedom. Stories are also permanently archived at the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
-Previous to the program, the perception students and veterans had about one another was not always positive. However, through the club, veterans are given a chance to tell their story and students are given the opportunity to ask.
“Changing that perception, it’s just about taking different generations and having them talk and having them realize that there’s really no difference between a teenager and a 90-year-old. It’s nice to see those bridges melt away,” said Hatch.
-Hatch is passionate about connecting the student community and the veteran community because she feels it promotes understanding, compassion, and knowledge among the two circles. Veterans Heritage Project cohosts Veterans Day and Memorial Day each year in the community along with Kiwanis of Carefree and the town. Students also hold a reception/book signing when the stories are published to thank the veterans for their contributions. “We’ve had kids who almost had no relationship with their grandfather and then realize they have a lot more in common than they thought. So bringing families together is really wonderful too,” said Hatch.
-While they both worked for Cave Creek Unified School District, Hatch and Pignoli had not met until Carl started reaching out to various veteran non-profit organizations in the valley.
“I saw that Hatch’s organization had heart, similar to ThanksUSA, and wanted what was best for the veterans and students,” said Pignoli.
-Pignoli is a retired aerospace engineer and school bus driver looking to “give back” to our veterans and their families a small portion of what they provided him….his freedom to pursue and accomplish his dreams. His way of thanking the nation’s military is the gift of education to military families through the national veterans’ organization called ThanksUSA, located in McLean, Virginia.
-ThanksUSA provides $3000 to $4000 educational scholarships to military family members based on need, with over 4500 being given across the USA, including Arizona. ThanksUSA also provides employment mentorship to those who receive scholarships. Pignoli established the Helping Hand Scholarship Fund under the ThanksUSA nonprofit umbrella with the more specific requirement that the scholarships be provided to family members of the fallen and disabled and provides four-year scholarships up to $38,000 to students looking to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
-Carl’s current mission is to make ThanksUSA and the Helping Hand Scholarship fund better known in the Valley. That is why he has been contacting and interfacing with various veteran organizations. To get the word out he has also organized the ThanksUSA/Helping Hand Golf Tournament and Luncheon scheduled for Saturday, June 8th at the Orange Tree Golf Club. The specific objective of this Golf Tournament /Luncheon is to make people in the Valley aware of ThanksUSA. For more information see thanksusa.org or contact Carl Pignoli at [email protected]
-Both Hatch and Pignoli have done admirable work in the Cave Creek/Carefree area and beyond to bring veterans and students closer and provide the opportunity for higher education. They foster a positive environment for veterans to share their experiences and for students to learn. They also provide military family members the opportunity to get a degree of their choosing with financial assistance.