Written by guest columnist Leanne Beal - Mortgage SpecialistWhen a business encourages its employees' volunteer efforts, great things happen! Communities are strengthened, lives are changed, and families are uplifted. Over Veteran's Day weekend, I, along with my friend Jen Baroletti, had the distinct honor and privilege of participating in a local Summit Project event. The event honors Maine fallen heroes through action. Surviving families unearth and donate stones that uniquely represent their loved ones and the stone is carried on treks throughout Maine. At a time when our country can feel so polarized, it was refreshing and humbling to volunteer for such a profound event, and it is something I will never forget.
My assigned hero was Army Specialist Cassandra Cassavant, who took her own life in August 2007. While her manner of death can be a controversial subject, I quickly realized that my assignment was not to tell about how she died, but rather how she lived. She was a young mother who turned to the service to help provide for herself and her daughter. She was smart and well-liked by her peers. They often referred to her as “Momma Cass” and she would cook for them in the barracks whenever she could. She loved to tie-dye, had all the Nirvana songs on her playlist, loved to read, particularly Harry Potter, and loved to hike. She even had a goal of one day hiking the Appalachian Trail.
On Saturday, November 11th, I carried Cassandra’s stone, which her daughter selected from Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, ME, to the summit of Blue Hill Mountain. It was there, in the biting wind and cold temperatures, that I and 12 other hikers shared the stories of our fallen heroes. The physical discomforts we were feeling from the hike and the weather were nothing compared to loss the families feel when their soldier doesn’t come home.
On Sunday, November 12th, I continued paying my respects to Cassandra by carrying her stone in a 4-mile Veterans Race hosted by the Downeast Family YMCA. It wasn’t a race about coming in first or setting records, but rather taking the time to feel the weight as I ran. I was reminded of the weight our veterans bear as they serve our country. I wondered how such an inert object like a stone could convey a sense of a living memorial, but running along the river on a cold November morning, it can, and it does.
I hesitated on whether to share my experience in this format – the emotions are raw, the memories are mine, and my words seem inadequate to give justice to the power of the program. But I remembered my assignment, to make sure others hear the story of how Army Specialist Cassandra Cassavant lived and that Maine heroes are not forgotten.
“We carry their stone for a hike; We carry their story for a lifetime.” The Summit Project motto. Thank you for sharing, Leann and most of all thank you for caring!