Yvette Soklove works as a teacher in the Pleasantville school district, founded the youth-based civic group Unifying Our Neighbors & Investing Time in Our Youth and practices as a local attorney. Despite her schedule, she always found herself concerned for troops overseas.
But it wasn't until recently that the disconnect she felt from not knowing anyone currently serving disappeared. Months ago she learned that her former student, Adrian Murray, of Pleasantville, had been deployed to Afghanistan - and the situation become personal.
"My father was in World War II. My uncle was in the Korean War. But that was before I was alive," the Pleasantville resident said. "You know of it, but it becomes more personal when you know someone out there doing it. This young person is out there risking his life. What can we do to help them?"
Once Soklove learned of her former sixth-grader's situation, she made efforts to contact him. She learned through Facebook that he would be in the area in December. After a visit from him at the end of the month, she felt encouraged to show Murray and his fellow servicemen and women support.
"It was really just awesome to see him," she said of Murray, who now stands at 6-foot-3, and speaks with a "deep voice." The middle school teacher had not seen her former student since he graduated eighth grade.
"When you see (former students) doing positive things, that's such a blessing," she said.
Through her organization UNITY and a similar group out of Philadelphia, Soklove is working to collect items to send overseas Feb. 28 - a date she purposely chose to fall in the same month as Valentine's Day.
"I chose (the month) because we want them to know that we love them and we support them," she said.
Murray, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, serves as an AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter electrical and avionics system repairer. As of last week, he was in Kuwait, about to make the trip back to Afghanistan.
Murray's mother, Neva Watson, of Pleasantville, tries to send packages to him every month, but was happy to learn that his former teacher was undertaking a similar task for her son.
"I'm glad that they are taking time out of their schedule to really appreciate what he (does)," she said. "It will mean a lot, because he says, 'Mom, there are two things I look forward to in Afghanistan, mail day and wing days.' … He said they really look forward to that because they share stuff with each other. … Whatever we send, they appreciate it, and they do look forward to it."
Murray, who commented from Kuwait via email, compared receiving a package to Christmas morning.
"Half the time you don't know what you're getting in that package, so for the most part it is a surprise," he said. "Sometimes, after working on the airfield for hours, it raises our morale when we walk into our office and we see a care package with our name on it, and it would be the same feeling opening a package from a former teacher."
Collection items requested are toiletries, such as toothpaste and toothbrushes, soap and mouthwash, DVDs, CDs, magazines, Bibles, crossword puzzles and candy.
Drop off locations are the Law Office of Yvette T. Soklove Esq. on 119 S. Franklin Blvd. and the Willie G.Williams Community Center at 1016-18 South St. in Philadelphia.
To contact Soklove regarding the collection, call 609-743-2874 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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