Students continue project to honor veterans

Anna Exford and Mackenzie Ples stand beneath one of the banners hung along South State Street in Lowville as part of a Future Career and Community Leaders of America project. Elaine M. Avallone/Johnson Newspapers

LOWVILLE — Just before Labor Day, seven banners honoring veterans went up along South State Street. The hanging of the banners was part of a project by two Future Career and Community Leaders of America members from Lowville Academy and Central School.

The mission of the organization is to promote personal growth and leadership using the content area of Family and Consumer Sciences education said Suzanne Schwarting, who has been the group’s advisor for the past 15 years.

“In FCCLA there are many categories for projects that embrace personal development to community development,” said Mrs. Schwarting.

Anna Exford and Mackenzie Ples came up with the project idea two years ago when they were both age 13. During the annual reading of veteran’s names at the school’s Veterans Day ceremony, the girls came to the conclusion “that honoring veterans on only that day and Memorial Day wasn’t enough to show our support.”

Through FCCLA, the then ninth graders competed in Students Taking Action with Recognition — STAR — events, presenting their project at both the state and national level. They earned a Silver award at the National Conference which was held virtually in July.

The project was multifaceted. The girls first surveyed veterans organizations to see if there was a need for such a project. They had to go before the village board for permission to hang the banners. Presentations were made to the American Legion and Veteran of Foreign Wars post members to solicit funds and support. They secured permission from the Board of Education to seek donations and planned and executed fundraisers. In addition they approached the school’s Student Council and Youth Area Council/Pratt Northam Foundation for funding as well as the Northern New York Community Foundation. The project coordinators enlisted the help of the high school graphic communications class to create the banners. They vetted graphic companies before deciding Register Graphics of Western best suited their needs. Set up an order form and criteria then publicize the banners via social media and through school resources.

The shutdown due to the pandemic caused setbacks.

“We were thrown off schedule, and it was harder for us to continue fundraising, order new banners, or get the word out about our project,” said the girls in a joint email. “Even though State Conference was canceled, we were determined to finish our project, and still get some banners hung up.”

The girls achieved that goal and learned about themselves and their community along the way.

“Even though it was later than planned, we hope that the hanging of these banners can inspire other people,” the girls said. “Whatever goals you want to fulfill, whether big or small, you should work towards, even if you’re a kid. Children can do anything if they set their minds to it. We’re pretty quiet kids, so this project also helped improve our public speaking a lot. We also learned a lot about our community, and how supportive everyone is of each other.”

In their virtual presentation, Anna pointed out that through the project they have “grown as people, learning how to public speak through the dozen of times we’ve had to stand before a crowd, make decisions for wide range of ideas, such as where to hang the banners what design to choose and what company to buy them from. We’ve overcame challenges and obtained responsibly for grant deadlines, speaking to organizations and getting our ideas out to the public.”

The project is continuing with hopes to have banners hung throughout the entire downtown area. They are also seeking information about service members from the area who were killed in action to have banners made for them. The freshman intend to have the project sustained through their high school career and beyond.

Criteria for the banners is that the veteran, living or deceased, is a Lowville Academy and Central School graduate or longtime resident of Lowville. The application is available through the school’s website at

The cost is $175 but there are scholarship opportunities.

“We believe everyone deserves to have a banner hung up for their loved ones,” Mackenzie and Anna said.

The girls are also accepting donations to defray the cost of the banners for those who can not afford one.

“The day the first seven banners were hung, we got many congratulations on them,” said the girls. “We feel proud to see the banners we worked so hard on now being enjoyed by the community.”

Applicants must submitted a photo of the veteran which will be returned. Local photographer Tony Urbaniak has agreed to scan the photos free of charge.

To find out more about Future Career and Community Leaders of America visit

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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