SSgt. Christopher Clay of the 106th Rescue Wing, an Air Force veteran who served in the Middle East, visited with the student council at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School Monday and received a box of Valentines made by students for veterans. Also pictured with the student council members are principal Thomas Peyton and teachers Kelly Dillon, left, and Nicole Fallon-Herbst. Photo: Julia-Anna Searson

The normally talkative group of fourth graders at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School were starstruck when Staff Sergeant Christopher Clay of the 106th Rescue Wing visited their classroom Monday to collect a box of “Valentines for Veterans.”

The children make up the student council that organized the Valentines gift. With the help of their teachers, Nicole Fallon-Herbst and Kelly Dillon, the 9-year-old students collected over 400 Valentine’s Day cards for veterans. 

Clay answered the children’s questions about his career in the military. 

“What countries have you been to?” and “How does it feel to be a veteran?” were some of the questions the students asked. 

SSgt. Christopher Clay answers students’ questions Monday at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School. Photo: Julia-Anna Searson

Clay, back home from a six-month deployment to Jordan, talked to the students about his nearly 14-year career in the Air Force fire protection division, his jobs as a Suffolk County police officer, a firefighter for the 106th and being a dad.

His sons, 2-year old Harrison and 8-month-old Maxwell, and his wife Ashley were in attendance for the Valentines pick-up. 

Clay thanked the children for all the cards and said his fellow airmen would appreciate them and some may even write thank-you letters back. He will bring the box to Gabreski Air Base in Westhampton Beach and pass them out to his fellow airmen. 

This is the second year the student council has chosen to do the “Valentines for Veterans.” 

SSgt. Christopher Clay accepts the Valentines for Veterans box from student council member He is pictured with student council member Lindsey Garcia Bailey. Courtesy photo: Riverhead Central School District.

“We gave them a couple of options for events to do but they remembered last year’s student council running it and wanted to do it again,” said Dillon. 

The student council ran several other events to benefit members of the community. In October they ran “Soctober” and collected over 100 pairs of socks for Maryhaven. 

Their year-long project is to collect recyclables from the school and bring them to Riverhead Beverage Company. The money they get from recycling will be donated charitable causes such as the victims of the Australian wildfires and clean water for Flint, Michigan. 

To join the student council, the students have to write personal essays describing why they want to join. Teachers from each class then pick two students they think would be the best members. 

The student council members give up one recess a week to participate, but they know they are going helping the local community, said Herbst. 

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Julia-Anna Searson
Julia-Anna is a Riverhead native and a recent graduate of Stony Brook University, with a degree in Biology and minor in Anthropology. She currently lives in Cutchogue.