When Hillary Houle, Creative Writing and English teacher for EHS, came up with a letter writing campaign for first responders, she was initially thinking about the students and alleviating their anxieties. She remembers wondering, "Why not give our students a mission?" Our mission statement at EHS inspires students to "live lives of significance in service to others." Houle thought there must be a way to do that so they can see the impact they can have. "Who knew it would spread across the U.S. and beyond?" Houle says.
Like most TV viewers, each night Houle turned on the news and saw how dedicated doctors and nurses work across the country were treating patients for the pandemic. Houle recalls, "I just had to do something and knew the students would embrace a mission to write letters of support to first responders, doctors, and nurses." She created a Dropbox for the letters so no one would touch them. Since Dropbox is electronic, healthcare workers could access letters in their free time and feel uplifted when they might need it most. She texted one of her former students, Meghan Juedeman '08, a first-year medical student at UT McGovern in Houston to ask her if she could help. Juedeman then called on two of her professors, Dr. Eugene Toy and Dr. Hilary Fairbrother. Immediately, those two doctors reached out to Houle and said they wanted to help. Within 48 hours, the letters had spread as far as Seattle, Washington, and Washington, DC. By Monday, doctors and nurses were tearfully asking for more. Then news producers from ABC Live and Channel 13 called to ask if they could access the files and share the letters with their viewers.
Houle says, "This has all been so beautiful to watch unfold—it was simply meant to be. People need validation that their hard work matters and makes a difference, especially when they are exhausted. I am so proud of our students. I am so deeply moved by the help we received in getting the letters into the hands of heroes."
As if that's not personal enough, when Houle's husband Tony was deployed in Iraq in 2009, her students helped her adopt his naval unit, and sent care packages and letters to boost morale. "Sadly," Houle says, "this virus has become like fighting a war. And while we are stuck at home, it's easy to feel helpless. To fight that kind of darkness or despair, the only thing I know to do is to fight back with compassion and kindness. My students and I simply turned on a light for those who are working so selflessly to keep us healthy and safe."
Click here to view the ABC Live news story. The story is slated to repeat on ABC network Pandemic broadcast at noon Central on Monday, April 6. Local Channel 13 is also airing a story on 4/10 at 6:30 p.m., and again on 4/18 during a "Community Strong" special at 6:30 p.m. ICYMI, you can view the Channel 13 clip here.
Note: If you'd like to peruse the students' letters, please click here.