Flashing red lights on a brand new brushfire rig and a cluster of red balloons welcomed Cape Horn-Skye Elementary first grade students of Nichol Yung and Darcy Hickey as they arrived at the school parking lot to meet some local heroes on October 9. Through their family car windows, and wearing masks, students handed their handmade thank you cards to representatives from Camas-Washougal Firefighters, Chris Kassel and Matthew Miller, also masked and wearing gloves. In return, each student was given a shiny red fire hat. Although no one could actually see the smiles behind masks, you could feel the joy felt by firefighters and students in the exchange.
“These written notes are so important because they provide an opportunity for the students to show gratitude and connect with people in our community who work and volunteer to keep them safe,” said Yung. “In a world where there is so much ‘virtual’ and for a 6 year old, it’s oftentimes difficult for them to distinguish between what is real and what is make-believe, these cards provide that bridge from what they may see on the news or hear friends and family talk about to something concrete.”
The class learned about wildfires and discussed how local fires had impacted the area. Some students shared how their families had to be ready to evacuate here in Washougal. “We had some students keenly aware of how some of their extended family members in Oregon were affected by the recent fires,” Hickey said.
The project gave these kids an opportunity to open up and process their feelings from what they had encountered during that difficult time. “Since all of the students were directly affected by the fires, especially with the smoke, they were able to offer support by providing a listening ear and observe the courage they all had in getting through this scary time,” said Yung. “This was a real-life experience for all of them and with the chance to meet some firefighters, they can make the connection with what they experienced to those who helped put the fires out.”
“It was great to just be out in the community and see all of these happy kids,” said Miller. “The cards were very sweet and mean so much to us.”
“We really enjoy being a part of these type of events,” said Kassel. “It is important for children to see us in normal situations so they know we are not scary, so in a time of emergency, they will not shy away from us.”
Student Ada Berg hoped her card made the firefighters happy. “I wanted to thank them for fighting fires and helping to keep people safe,” she said. For Berg and her family, the fires were very real with her grandparents evacuated from their home in Estacada, Oregon.
“I want to be a firefighter,” admitted student Grason Powell. “I want to help save the world.”
“We want the students to be able to understand that just as firefighters have a huge impact on communities in keeping them safe, children also have something to contribute by way of showing gratitude and support,” said Yung. “We hope that this show of gratitude and support will not only be evidenced in this activity but in every aspect of their lives and that it is a life-long attribute that can only help them have positive emotions, which can be easily shared. We want them to have an ‘attitude of gratitude’.”
“We are so excited to see the kids hand the firefighters their cards because we know that firefighters don’t always get recognized unless there is an emergency,” said Hickey. “We want them to know that, emergency or not, they are appreciated and we hope that we see the light in their faces as they receive a heartfelt card and well-wish from a 6-year old who admires them for their bravery.