More than 100 area veterans and their loved ones – many clad in red, white and blue -- gathered Thursday (November 10, 2022) in the cafeteria at Silver Creek High for the long-awaited unveiling of a patriotic project.
Intended to pay respect to military heroes with a local connection while creating community connections, the debut of the Veterans Tribute Wall is the culmination of years of planning and collaboration. Comprising glass-encased, hand-crafted displays featuring honorees’ names in the school colors of black and gold along the corridor connecting the high school and elementary school – the ambitious installation follows several years of planning.
The Veterans Tribute Wall roots extend several years, with elementary teacher Jennifer Restivo initiating the construction of the cases around 2017 with Buildings & Grounds employee John Bifaro, who built and installed them in the fall of 2019, all under the guidance of former principal Merrie Maxon.
The wall idea started off as an elementary student project with students in third through fifth grades participating in the Knight U program.
Over the past few years, the Veterans Tribute Wall at Silver Creek Central School District has evolved from a temporary paper installation to a permanent, glass-enclosed display. Above, a view of the wall as it appeared in 2019 and, below, how it looks as of November 2022, with sophomores Karissa Buchanan and Michael Dispenza along with senior Harmony Sinders standing in front of it.
“It was Merrie who then helped with the more permanent installation and case project,” says Restivo, an intervention specialist at SCES. “The majority of the wall names came from cards that were initially collected and added to the first wall.”
Then the pandemic came, and the wall was stalled until the spring of 2022 due to the shutdowns. But then Restivo reached out for assistance in completing the project, and a trio of enterprising and community-minded students got involved under the guidance of teachers Kristen Foley and Jessica Kardashian.
Senior Harmony Sinders and sophomores Karissa Buchanan and Michael Dispenza – who spent a collective 100+ hours working on the wall and planning the ceremony – were on hand Thursday evening to warmly welcome the veterans and families along with Foley, their advisor.
“The high schoolers inherited this project from the elementary school,” notes Foley. “They followed through with the original vision of the project. Jen Restivo passed down all of the materials to me, which I then passed down to the students.”
“We first knew of the project during the nearing end of the last school year. It was announced as a Veteran Wall that would count toward our Civic Seal of Readiness,” says senior Harmony Sinders. “We did not begin working on this until the start of our, now, school year. We have been working since the first week of school to complete the wall including planning, discussion, and preparation.”
The trio developed a submission form for gathering names and distributed it via several media channels, compiled information, and budgeted and coordinated for a large-scale public event in about 60 days. Their teamwork on this tight timeline strengthened their sense of civic duty.
“It’s not only a wonderful way to honor our veterans, but it grew to connect our community with our buildings, students and staff that have participated along the way,” says Restivo of the wall project.
Sinders, Dispenza and Buchanan also decorated the cafeteria, arranged all of the refreshments for the reception and organized gift bags with little notebooks, American flag pins and pens as well as thoughtful cards created by elementary students. They are grateful to the district administration, staff and students who helped fund the ceremony via two “casual dress days.”
“This project was also an exercise in consent,” noted Buchanan. “We wanted to ensure we had everyone’s permission to be on the wall.”
The trio will eventually hand over responsibility for the wall to fellow students since Sinders is graduating, but Dispenza and Buchanan will be on hand the next couple years to help guide the next “stewards” of the wall.
“The wall will never be finished. It will always be a work in progress and open to anyone,” said Dispenza, who spent the evening escorting small groups of veterans and their families to and fro the wall so they could spend a few private, solemn moments reminiscing.
To submit a name for the Veterans Tribute Wall, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Foley, Sinders, Dispenza and Buchanan welcome community members who attended the unveiling of the Veterans Tribute Wall on Thursday, November 10, 2022.
A family poses in front of the Veterans Tribute Wall near the name of their loved one.