High School Senior Sprouts Support for the Military with “Seeds of Hope”

Troops_022By: Paula Green

            Eighteen year old, Alexis Werner of Etna is passionate about her support for the military.  The Shaler Area High School senior was recently named one of Pennsylvania’s top youth volunteers of 2014 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

          Werner received this prestigious honor because she formed the Seeds of Hope campaign.  This initiative is a student-run organization designed to aid homeless veterans and to promote greater appreciation for the sacrifices U.S. service members have made serving our country.

          Werner’s support for the military comes from her own personal experiences. “My journey came to a crossroads when I was 15 years old.  During my freshman year of high school, my stepfather, Greg, came home from his third tour of duty in Afghanistan.  This time it was different; he was different. He was a casualty of the war, coming home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Words cannot explain how difficult this was on not only me, but my whole family. This was undoubtedly the worst point of my life, but the most pivotal point as well.  I didn’t know who to go to or what to do,” explained Werner.  

  “I was angry and upset at the situation I had been thrown into.  I realized I could continue to be angry, or I could do something to change it.  This was when my non-profit, Seeds of Hope sprouted.  It was my turn to step up and advocate for others like my step dad,” Werner added.

            Werner has help from about 30 of her peers in planting the military gardens.  “Seeds of Hope members are involved with Fisher House Foundation, as they house nine gardens across the country and volunteers from Pittsburgh annually cook holiday meals for the residents in the Pittsburgh house.  We are also involved with Veteran’s Place, which is a homeless veteran facility that has two of our self-sustaining gardens.  We also cook dinners there four times a year.  Our newest project is a serenity garden at the Project Journey house, an organization that helps veteran women get back on their feet,” Werner said.

            Werner and two others spend time reading the book Seeds of Hope: The Beginning to students in elementary schools.  This children’s book is geared for kids ages 7-10.  It focuses on the importance of community service, healthy eating, and Veteran appreciation.

             Another military project that Werner is involved with is a video entitled Our Way Home.  This student-made documentary follows the homecoming stories of nine veterans from World War II to present day focusing on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

             “I am working on this film with two adult professionals.  The one person who has been helping me is Gregg Dietz, an outreach specialist at the University of Pittsburgh who runs an organization called Youth Advocacy League in Shaler Area High School.  He has taught me how to run a successful program and how to build relationships with volunteers, professionals, etc.,” said Werner.

             “This summer I will be traveling to Haiti to do outreach work with Team Tassy.  In the Fall I plan on going to Temple University in Philadelphia and continuing my work with Seeds of Hope. I hope that when people read my story that they feel inspired to find the silver lining in their situations whatever that might be,” Werner added.

                 For more information on the Seeds of Hope, visit http://www.seedsofhopeforvets.org/