“The students held weekly meetings every Saturday morning starting in September and used their time to plan events to raise money," Robin McMahon, a Smith Middle School French teacher who helped put together the project, said.
They raised money through a booth at the school's Global Connections Night, a presentation about the war from a local historian, selling concessions at school dances and functions and an event at the North Carolina Botanical Garden that featured a guest lecturer, catered food and a silent auction. They also raised money through GoFundMe.
Even with the money received from events, the students still needed more support, which they received from local companies such as Carrot-Top Industries, Inc. The American flag-selling company is providing flags to place in honor of the relatives of those who donated to the project, and even shared the project on the front page of their website.
“I feel like I am going even though I am not!” Tina Williamson, a Carrot-Top Industries representative, said.
Williamson also helped the project through email blasts, creating blog posts and advertising the project on Carrot-Top’s website.
The events and support from the community resulted in the team of six students putting together over $32,000 to fly their veterans on a first-class round trip to Paris. There are still some expenses the students and teachers had to cover on their own.
Although fundraising for the project has been exhausting, the students and teachers say they are glad that now they can focus on spending time with the veterans.
“I had four members of my family fight and serve in Europe," Daniel Price, a East Chapel Hill High School sophomore involved in the project said. "Because I never got to meet them, this project allows me to honor their sacrifice”
When asked why they wanted to work so hard on a project like this, students individually echoed the same sentiment — to honor the men and women who serve. Each student decided it was important to honor the veterans through this project, as they all had a relative or knew someone who felt the impact of the war.
Not only will the students be there to support the veterans physically and emotionally, but they will also be their translators, as every student takes French in school. This trip will not be the students' first time in Normandy, as they made a stop there during a exchange trip to Belgium through the school.
“Going now is completely different because we’re going in with knowledge of people who were there," Chapel Hill High School sophomore Cathy Charles said.
The six students and two teachers will be staying in the home of an old friend from the exchange trip and will have a packed schedule for their week-long stay in Normandy.
“Events like these are the reason I became a teacher; it renews your spirit as a teacher," Tony Carter, a Smith Middle social studies teacher who is also going on the trip, said.
“When people say "What do you want to be in five years," this is it," McMahon said.