NORTH EAST – VFW Auxiliary Post 6027 transformed into a teen hangout Saturday as part of a new youth outreach program.

As kids danced and sang karaoke on stage, 27 students from grades 1 through 12 competed in three separate competitions, all based on promoting patriotism.

“For us as the VFW, it’s important that the upcoming generation appreciates the sacrifices of people who serve and provide for our freedom,” said VFW Junior Vice Commander Ray Conger. “They understand that it’s important to be patriotic, and this gives them an outlet to express that. It’s really a good way for us to connect with them since it’s something that we share.”

Students in first through eighth grade participated in an Illustrating America contest to win $100, while high school students competed in the Young American Creative Patriotic Art Contest to win a $15,000 scholarship.

Other students ages 6 to 16 competed to win $1,000 through a national anthem singing contest.

The VFW is accepting applications to the three national contests until March 31. Once a panel of local judges selects an entry at the Auxiliary, the winner will move on to state and national panels to determine who wins the prize money. The local winners will be announced in April.

The event was part of a new monthly mixer series the VFW Auxiliary has been organizing since December to give Cecil County kids a chance to socialize in a safe, supervised environment.

Previous mixers, along with having food and a DJ, have been focused on charity. In January, students making lap blankets for veterans at the Veterans Administration Medical Center and the Conowingo Veterans Center. During another event, they made cards and bracelets for deployed veterans.

“We have to let the community know that the VFW is not a bar,” said Jaime Daley, a member of the VFW Auxiliary who organized the event. “We are a non-profit organization that gives every cent back to the community.”

The event was supported by Nature’s Care and Wellness and the Cecil County Arts Council, which provided art materials for the children to use. Tommy Lyons, the community relations liaison for Nature’s Care and Wellness, is a member of the VFW, and two members of the board of the CCAC are VFW members.

Lyons said he enjoyed seeing “kids come together and being able to laugh and sing while also keeping the spirit of patriotism alive in our kids.”

One of the participants, Echo Charleton from Perryville High School, created an image of the American flag standing atop a collage of papers, with the words “Still Standing Standing Strong” along the collage’s ridges. Her original plan was to create an image of soldiers coming home, but the arts council’s collage papers inspired her to do something different.

“The tickets and suitcase passes represent how people would come in through the Statue of Liberty,” Charleton said. “The plane represents air travel, and the other scraps of paper represent how laws are passed through the government.”

Quynh Leighton, an eighth-grader at the Tome School, created an image of Betsy Ross making the first American flag. Ross is drawn in Sharpie while the rest of the painting is in acrylic, making Ross stand against the gold and blue background.

Leighton’s original plan was to have Ross next to a lamp, which is why the background was gold, but she decided to switch it to a solid blue background instead of a room’s details.

Two members of the arts council, Maggie Creshkoff and Lorraine Haggard, helped the students with their art.

“I didn’t know what to expect and I am so happy to be here,” Creshkoff said. “I was so impressed with the quality of the creativity.”

In April, the VFW will host an Easter egg hunt for children and continue the monthly youth event. Daley said VFW will take a break from hosting mixers during the summer, and then possibly start the series up again in the fall, depending on community interest.

“We have like three or four families with children with autism,” Daley said. “This gives them a place where they can bring their kids and they don’t feel harassed because we can protect them and provide a safe environment. The alternative is either playing video games or going to their friend’s house, where they’re not necessarily supervised.”

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