Veterans pitch in to spiff up a school

For the McHugh family, it was a no-brainer: Come together on a weekend, help a school and serve the community.

“We’re trying to give back a little bit and really show these guys why we do what we do,” said Army Maj. Kevin McHugh, motioning to his two boys as they dug a shallow trench for a flower bed outside Martin Luther King Elementary School on Saturday morning.

“We’re excited to see how it turns out.”

The McHughs were among a group of military veterans who teamed with local volunteers from Target in a service project to mark Veterans Day. The event was one of 14 Veterans Day projects taking place at schools nationwide in partnership with Target. The projects are aimed at helping schools that serve at-risk students.

The project was coordinated by The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that helps post-9/11 veterans make the transition from the military to civilian life through community service.

About 80 volunteers spent the morning and part of the afternoon painting murals, patching walls, building picnic tables and landscaping at the school at 4201 Indiana Ave.

“Veterans love to come out and help in the communities,” said Caitlin Harvey, spokeswoman for The Mission Continues. “They love to take care of their country. This is a way to recognize their service and thank them and to also show them that they are needed in their communities now more than ever.”

Maj. Armando Kuppinger Velasquez, who was coordinating the activities for the veterans, said most of those helping with the project had done two to four tours overseas and were active-duty military stationed at Fort Leavenworth.

“We’ve got infantry, Special Forces guys, every branch you could think of in the military here today,” he said. “We serve all the time with our units, but we don’t always get to connect with the community. Connecting with the community is really important to us.”

Inside the school, Tammy Francisco of Platte City, who has spent 22 years in the military, was helping paint a mural.

“I love community service,” said Francisco, who served two tours overseas and recently adopted five children. “I’ve been so blessed by others that every opportunity I get, I do this.”

Outside, McHugh, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now attending officers college at Fort Leavenworth, worked with sons Sebastian, 12, and Nicholas, 9, while his wife, Angela, shoveled dirt nearby.

Diane Kobe, a sixth-grade teacher at King Elementary School, showed up “because I wanted to be a part of this.”

“I wanted to help the kids and beautify the school,” said Kobe, of Lee’s Summit, as she scooped up a pile of dead grass and leaves. “But when I got here, I was shocked. I thought this would be a small event, but this just amazes me. It’s wonderful, and they are so organized. They’re going to get it done.”