Two ROTC teens in West Allegheny set fundraiser to aid vets

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When Barb Lesko watches the evening news, she often hears sad stories about the sacrifices of military service members and asks herself, "What can we do to show we care?"

The West Allegheny High School senior and her classmate Meghan Boocks have found a way to show their appreciation by organizing a 5K run and 2-mile walk to benefit wounded veterans.

"Instead of just sitting and watching the news, we want to get up and get involved and just show them our support," Barb said.

The public is invited to participate in the Run to Support Our Wounded Service Members at 9 a.m. April 28 at Findlay's Clinton Community Park, 1355 Route 30.

Proceeds will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based charity providing health, education, employment and social programs to service members who have lost limbs, suffered from combat stress and experienced other wounds, injuries or illnesses since Sept. 11, 2001.

The students hoped to raise at least $2,500.

"It's going back to the service members who serve our community," Meghan said. "It shows we care. It's important to us."

During their three years in the 143-student Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Course at the high school, Barb and Meghan developed an appreciation for the armed services, and the topic of military leadership emerged as a shared passion for their senior project.

The students initially learned of the Wounded Warrior Project after seeing T-shirts for the organization. They did more research and decided to plan the fundraiser as the culminating, creative component of about nine months of work.

Meghan, 18, lives in North Fayette with her parents, Ann and Jim Boocks, and brother, A.J., a West Allegheny sophomore.

Her grandfather and uncle had served in the Marines, and another uncle had served in the Army, she said.

Although she doesn't plan to pursue a career in the military, Meghan said, the ROTC program has taught her patience and other skills that have helped her become a mature role model for children at the day care center where she works and in the West Allegheny child development class where she interacts with preschoolers.

She plans to attend college for early childhood education and special education.

Meghan also enjoys playing slow-pitch softball at West Allegheny during the school year and competing in the Oakdale community softball league in the summer.

Barb, 17, of Findlay is the daughter of Gail Lesko and Findlay police Chief Jesse Lesko Jr.

Her 20-year-old brother, also named Jesse, is attending Penn State University on an ROTC scholarship and will serve in the Army for four years after he graduates, she said.

Her dad also served in the Army, and some of her great uncles were in the Navy and Marine Corps.

A member of West Allegheny's volleyball, cross-country and track teams, Barb has received a volleyball scholarship for the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and she plans to start boot camp in June.

After fulfilling a five-year commitment to the Navy, Barb hopes to start a career in the health field.

Raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project "is a great way to give back to the service members who have given so much," she said.

The nonprofit organization was founded in 2003 to help wounded service members returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq, and it has grown into a complete rehabilitative effort for veterans recovering from combat and readjusting to civilian life, according to the charity's website, www.woundedwarriorproject.org.

Registration for the fundraiser is $20 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under. Early registration deadline is April 7 and guarantees participants a T-shirt. Registrants are welcome up to event day.

Donations from businesses and individuals are needed to help pay for supplies, including T-shirts for participants and trophies and medals for top finishers.

Following a visit from Barb and Meghan on March 14, the Findlay supervisors approved a $200 contribution to the project, use of the park course and the donation of time by Findlay police officers for traffic control.

The 5K course -- equivalent to about 3.1 miles -- includes woodlands and rolling hills in Clinton Community Park and on Route 30 and Camp Meeting Road.

Police will intermittently stop vehicles to allow runners to cross Route 30.

The course starts near the park's agriculture building, follows the same path as the township's annual Fair in the Woodlands race and finishes at Rainbow's End Memorial Playground.

Awards for the 5K will go to the top female and male finishers, as well as to the top two in each of eight age groups.

Walk awards will go to the top two females and top two males.

To register for the run or walk, visit www.signmeup.com/site/online-event-registration/83004, call 412-865-6573 or email blesko12@yahoo.com.


Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com .


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