Actions of Our Youth Volunteers "Teach" Better Than Words
It was a blustery December Day in Columbia Falls, Maine but as soon as you stepped into the Wreaths Across America driver’s check-in lounge, there was a palpable excitement that instantly melted away the chill. Music, laughter, handshakes, and hugs rekindled old friendships, and a tantalizing smell emanated from the kitchen.
The Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington National Cemetery would soon begin, and professional drivers were arriving from all over the country, at all hours, to load their trucks with fresh, hand-made balsam fir veterans’ wreaths, a gift of America’s respect to our fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery and other participating locations across the nation.
There was another thing that filled the room last December, and it was a broad, bright smile belonging to an 11-year-old girl named Dehlia Elbe who enthusiastically and ever so politely went from table to table helping welcome and serve guests. Dehlia, as it turns out was part of the Tyson Foods team, and they were responsible for the potent aroma, and delicious food served to Gold Star families, veterans and drivers getting ready for the annual trek. Dehlia’s father Kenny Elbe is a driver for Tyson Foods, and he joined their team shortly after she was born.
Kenny first got involved with Wreaths Across America through Tyson in 2016.
“That first year was so emotional for me on every level,” Kenny recalls. “I didn’t know what to expect, and it was overwhelming really. This year is turning out to be that way too!”
Since his first year transporting veterans’ wreaths, Kenny and his family have visited Maine to participate in a Wreaths Across America Stem to Stone event where replica dog tags are placed on balsam fir trees that will be tipped to make wreaths.
“I think this is such an important mission and I thought it would be good for Dehlia to come along this year. She’s an excellent student, so I wasn’t worried about taking her out of school given her grades. It’s all about teaching our kids that freedom is not free.”
In fact, Dehlia is a high honors student, a Junior Olympian Gymnast and a Green Belt in Karate. She and her classmates at St. Francis School in Clearfield, PA, wanted to do more to honor veterans. With a supportive school and community, they sold T-shirts to raise money for wreath sponsorships. Ultimately they sold enough to cover all of the 165 graves at Beulah Cemetery where previously only about 20 of the fallen had been honored and remembered. They even had a small surplus to carry into this year’s wreath ceremony.
Wreaths Across America learned of their efforts, and after meeting Dehlia and her family she was asked to represent her school, community and her Tyson Foods family, by helping to place a wreath during the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. The announcement at the driver’s recognition and send off dinner at Wreaths Across America’s headquarters came as quite a shock.
“I went back to where I was sitting, and I was so excited I started crying,” Dehlia recalls. “I knew it was a big honor because not many people get to do that.”
Dehlia represented everyone gracefully during the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown alongside Col. (ret.) Roger Donlon, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Vietnam War. She also shared with us why she’s so motivated to be a Wreaths Across America youth volunteer in her community.
“I think the mission to remember, honor and teach is important because it teaches everyone that freedom isn’t free. So many people gave up their lives to give us independence and keep us safe. Without their sacrifices society could be so much worse. I’m so glad my parents have taught that to my brother and me.”
This year we’re told Dehlia’s brother will be traveling with Kenny and the Tyson Foods team.
Wreaths Across America expresses our gratitude to our youth volunteers across this nation like Dehlia and her brother who will, in turn, teach the next generation about the sacrifices made to protect our freedom and liberties.