I Am Not Afraid of Storms
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship,” said author Louisa May Alcott. Those words speak volumes about the resiliency of children, but where and how children learn to become resilient isn’t something we can always see. Those who help children weather storms are often a part of their school family.
First grader Benjamin Mentink (plaid shirt) is surrounded by his classmates as they wait for Benjamin's Dad to arrive and be recognized in an early and private Veteran's Day program.
When Principal, Ryan Eckart learned that two of his Jane Ball Elementary School students were about to face their second ‘storm’ of the school year, it only took a short email to motivate Jane Ball students and staff to open their arms and raise their voices to bolster Cadence and Benjamin Mentink and recognize their father for his service.
Benjamin Mentink with his son, Benjamin and daughter Cadence
New students to Jane Ball this school year, Cadence is a third grader in April Snuffer’s class and Benjamin, is a first grader in Janise Wiener’s class. Both children are students of music teacher, Christine Santaguida.
The brother and sister will face six months without their strongest role model, their hero, their father as he deploys to the United Arab Emirates. A twelve-year veteran of the United States Air Force, Ben Mentink has been serving as a reservist for a year. This will be his second deployment and, in the six months he will be gone, he will miss all of the moments that mean so much to a typical family. He will not be here to watch his children’s excitement as they scour the neighborhood for Halloween candy. He will not be here as the Jane Ball family honors veterans on Veteran’s Day. He will not be here for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s. He knows that his children will be well cared for and loved by his parents and girlfriend, but he might not have known just how much the Jane Ball family cares.
Mr. Mentink offers his son, Benjamin a few words of encouragement as he prepares to sing "You're a Grand Old Flag," with his class.
Mr. Mentink sits with his daughter, Cadence as Benjamin sings with his class.
In one short week, three teachers and the students in their classrooms prepared a very special and private Veteran’s Day tribute to Mr. Mentink. Mrs. Wiener’s class made a banner that stood tall behind a chair reserved for Mr. Mentink during the program in Mrs. Santaguida’s classroom. Mrs. Snuffer’s class made cards for him, handing them to him individually with a word of thanks. Joining Mr. Mentink for the program, and with pride on their faces, were his Mom, Claudia Carlson and girlfriend, Michelle Batliner. Ms. Batliner’s son, Eli Elkins, who has become not only a friend, but a brother to young Benjamin and Cadence performed as well and it was clear the love in this family has taught them all how to sail any ship through a storm.
Mr. Mentink surrounded by those who love him; (l to r) girlfriend Michelle Batliner, Mr. Mentink, Claudia Carlson, Cadence Mentink, Eli Elkins and Benjamin Mentink
It was also apparent that the few short moments filled with song and gratitude for his service meant the world to Mr. Mentink. “Thank you so very much. It means a lot to me," he told the students who had performed, and to the members of the Jane Ball family who organized the program. “It takes a lot of love in your heart to show you care this much. I am so proud of the support of these kids,” he said quietly, with a huge smile.
Third graders present cards of gratitude to Mr. Mentink
Veteran’s Day will be upon us soon and we will honor and recognize veterans at Jane Ball and throughout Hanover Schools. While Mr. Mentink will be more than 7,000 miles away fueling jet planes, he will be in the hearts and minds of his children and his Jane Ball family.
Thank you for your service Sir!