Starr Elementary School said “thank you for your service” in a big way Friday to active duty military and veterans, police, fire, and other first-responders before the start of the school’s annual “Heroes Jog-a-thon” fundraiser.
The field behind the school was bedecked with American flags, balloons, and brightly colored handmade banners of thanks as students from grades kindergarten through sixth clustered with their classmates around the edge of a running oval.
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Some left their classmates to stand next to a dad, father, grandfather, great-grandfather or uncle: war veterans, an active-duty soldier in the Army National Guard, police officers from Fresno and Corcoran, firefighters. The military veterans had served in at least four wars — World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq — and in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
This year’s guest of honor was Fresno Police Corp. John Banuelos Jr., a Starr alum and father of two Starr students, third-grader Darren and first-grader Ryan.
“It’s a huge honor,” Banuelos told GV Wire. “It’s very touching that the school still celebrates heroes like this.”
‘A Great Way to Celebrate Freedom’
Principal Charlie Reynolds, who came to the northwest Fresno school 11 years ago, said the school used to celebrate Patriot Day honoring the memory of 9/11 victims in the fundraiser’s opening ceremony but then decided to honor the military and first-responders.
“It gives us the chance to honor the different heroes that our students have that come out, and it’s a great community event,” he said. “We open it up to anybody. One year we had somebody come out from the Midwest, just for the ceremony.
“I get a lot of feedback from our community that they love it, that it’s a great way to celebrate our freedom.”
Raising Money for School Activities
And that celebration included a whole lot of running. Each grade level took turns galloping around an oval set up in a field next to the school, raising funds for each lap they ran — as marked on their hands by volunteers — or for lump sum donations by relatives, friends, and other community members.
The fundraiser typically nets tens of thousands of dollars that are used for fields trips and other school activities during the year, Reynolds said.
Kindergartners were the first to take off at a sprint, zipping around the course as they were cheered on by onlookers. “Smile — you’ll run faster,” a woman told them over the loudspeaker.
Thanks to sponsors, each child, school staffer, and volunteer was clad in a bright green Starr Knights T-shirts. Many of the kids were waving small American flags as they clustered around the oval running track.
Veterans Came Out to Celebrate
Ernest Saldivar, a Vietnam combat veteran, started volunteering at the northwest Fresno school in 2004 when his grandson was enrolled and has kept on volunteering as other grandkids and relatives attended the school.
Saldivar, who’s known as “Papa Ernie” at the school, said he’s honored that Starr celebrates veterans such as himself.
“The way I look at it, it’s a way to say thank you,” he said. “It’s like when I bring ice cream on Fridays, to say thank you for coming to school and thank you for doing your best. This is thank you for your service. You’re not forgotten.”