By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Hudson – Eighty-five sixth-graders on the Ruby Team at JFK Middle School helped organize a performance of “A Ray of Elvis” with professional Presley impersonator Ray Guillemette Jr., presented May 12 at the Hudson High School Auditorium. While learning about the legendary “King of Rock and Roll,” who ruled pop-music charts decades before these students were born, they also discovered how to coordinate a community-service learning project to benefit the Veterans Outreach Center (VOC) of Metrowest.
Earlier this school year, the team held a bake sale for charity and collected items for the food pantry, but this was their first time tackling the challenge of a large-scale event. To promote the show, some students placed posters at local businesses and created a commercial for public-access television. Other students collected tickets and sold refreshments the evening of the performance.
Sally Patulak, a paraprofessional at JFK School, commented on the effort.
“In one way or another, all 85 students have done something,” Patulak said. “They got a lot of life skills out of it.”
Patulak knew from the start she wanted the project to benefit military veterans. And after seeing Guillemette perform as Elvis, she learned they share an interest in fundraising for veterans” causes.
“It's my way to support the efforts of the veterans,” said Guillemette, who stages an annual Christmas concert to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project, an organization for injured veterans.
Based in western Massachusetts, Guillemette performed his award-winning Elvis tribute show internationally for 10 years before his life took an unexpected turn. While driving his motorcycle in 2001, a drunk driver hit him and caused extensive injury to his left leg. Thirteen operations later, that leg was amputated.
“As an amputee myself, I went through therapy and rehabilitation back in 2002,” he explained. “At that time, I had a chance as an entertainer to work in trade shows and motivational programs. There were reasons for me to be involved with the Wounded Warriors Project. I saw young folks like myself who were injured and had limb loss, and they were very inspiring to me and to others. After meeting these young men and women, it's a good way for me to give back.”
When it came to finding a good cause to benefit from the students” project, Patulak chose VOC because it serves veterans from Hudson, as well as from many other communities.
Located in the Walker Building at 255 Main St., Suite 213, in Marlborough, VOC is available to assist military veterans and their families from throughout the Metrowest area. The center provides services through three primary programs: psychological counseling and therapy; benefits counseling and advocacy; and disability claims assistance. Supplementing these programs are support services including transportation, referrals, emergency needs and employment assistance.
Carol Callaghan is a caseworker at VOC.
“Right now, employment and post-traumatic stress disorder are the most common issues addressed in support groups, which meet weekly,” Callaghan said. “We also do individual care counseling and we can refer them to a psychiatrist outside of the center.”
Since VOC is a nonprofit corporation, it appreciates donations such as the funds raised by the students” project.
“It's a nice way for the students to honor those who have done a lot for their country,” said Callaghan. “I think they'se learning to respect the veterans, and hopefully understand that the rights they have, they got from the veterans.”
VOC programs assist over 500 veterans each year. Veterans and their families can call the center for information at 508-460-9993.
“Hudson is a district that does a lot of community-service learning projects,” Patulak added. “Hopefully we'sl do a big one like this again.”