Student forms group to help soldiers

When University of Alabama junior Chelsea Pickett watched her younger brother graduate from boot camp at Parris Island earlier this fall, she was moved as she reflected on the generations of military service represented in her family.

A daughter of a sergeant major, a granddaughter of a Vietnam veteran and a cousin to several servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pickett wanted to do her part to support U.S. troops. She decided to start a group to help other students give back, too.

“I realized how much these people give up for us - the least we could do was to send a few care packages or sell some yellow ribbons,” Pickett said.

A few weeks later, Students Helping Heroes was an official University of Alabama organization. SHH works to raise awareness about veterans, reservists and soldiers in the Tuscaloosa area while also supporting troops through care packages and letters.

“SHH is a group of students trying to make a difference by recognizing and supporting those on campus and in the area who have given us the freedoms that we enjoy,” said Pickett, the SHH president.

Stephen Groff, an Army veteran and professor of psychology at the University, agreed to be the group’s faculty adviser because SHH’s purpose hit so close to home.

Groff, who enlisted in the Army right out of high school and went on to serve as an officer and psychologist, was deployed to Iraq in 2006 and 2007.

“Having been that guy overseas, I know what it feels like to get a package or mail from the States,” Groff said.

SHH adopted a Marine platoon and will be working on sending care packages this month, compiling blankets, snacks and toiletry items as well as letters.

Groff believes the care packages will help develop personal connections between UA students and service members.

“When I used to get something from anyone in the U.S. I would always try to send a letter back,” Groff said. “I got things from a church group with 5-year-old kids and it meant so much to me that I wanted to personally thank them. They’re going to have an opportunity to get some really interpersonal relationship from this endeavor, and it’s really a win-win for both sides.”

Holli Huval Frey, a junior human development and family studies major, said she joined the group to help give back.

“Our troops are risking their lives in order to provide us with the lifestyle we are so accustomed to and enjoy so much,” Frey said. “The least we could do is show our support and provide them with things they need and desire.”

While there are other military oriented groups on campus like the Campus Veterans Association, Pickett said SHH wants to recruit members who perhaps have no military associations at all.

“We are trying to set ourselves apart by getting students of all backgrounds involved,” she said. “Whether you know anyone in the military or not, there is a place for you to show your support.”

Pickett said SHH hopes to work with groups like CVA in the future and work to make the University more student-veteran friendly. In addition, SHH is looking into setting up a volunteering network between the local VA hospital and UA.

“We want to show that we appreciate all of our heroes, past and present,” Pickett said.

Though just over a month old, SHH is currently made up of around 30 students.

Pickett said she would like to see at least 60 members by next summer, one for each Marine in their adoptive platoon. She encourages any and all students to join.

“This is a group for all students,” she said. “You don't have to have any connection to the military other than a desire to show your support. This isn't a club that's going to be a hassle. The meetings won't waste your time. There won't be hours of pomping. This group is about coming together and helping our heroes.”

More information about Students Helping Heroes can be found on their Facebook page.

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