MONTVILLE, NJ – Five township students earned cash awards from Montville Township VFW Post 5481 by entering the VFW’s national essay contests.

At the high school level, Sophia Velocci was the Voice of Democracy first place winner, also placing second in the VFW District 10 contest. Sean Healy was the second place winner and Scott Kolaritsch was the third place winner. Velocci received a check for $200 from the post, while Healy received $150 and Kolaritsch received $100. All are seniors at Montville Township High School. The winners also received a certificate from the U.S. Congress signed by Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (D-11).

The winners gathered with their families at a special Jan. 4 post meeting, where Velocci read her first place essay, in which she answered the contest question, “What Makes America Great?” with – the value of volunteerism.

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“I learned of volunteerism in my own family,” Velocci told the veterans, reading from her essay. “My great uncle Benedict joined the Army in WWII. Uncle Benny was a son of an immigrant. At 16 years old he could have easily avoided serving in a war because of his age. However, he lied on his application just so he could join. Uncle Benny was one of the first waves of soldiers who stormed the beach at Normandy. He suffered life-long injuries but continued in the army and eventually served in the Korean War. My family told me stories about his courage and the pain that he suffered, but the one thing that I was told about Uncle Benny was that the proudest moment of his life was when he volunteered to join the Army. He wanted to give back to the brand new country he lived in and protect the rights that his family now enjoyed while living in America. That spirit is what led our country to victory.”

Voices of Democracy, the high school-level essay contest, has been conducted since 1947 and recently added an audio portion which is judged on content and delivery, Post Commander Ken Hanzl said. A few years ago, a Montville student won first prize – a $30,000 college scholarship, he said.

Lazar Winners

At the middle school level, the Patriots’ Pen contest theme was “What Makes America Great,” and awarded a $5,000 scholarship nationally.

The post’s Patriots’ Pen winners for this year were Olivia Adasczik ($100) for first place and Gennaro Polise in second place ($75). Both are 8th grade students at Lazar Middle School.

Adasczik’s essay talked about the things that make America great such as “equal rights, education and the hard-working veterans, and the people who work with them in the military,” she wrote.

“There are many other reasons why our country is really great, but these stood out to me,” she read to the veterans gathered, from her essay. “Our rights include the right to vote, freedom from slavery, freedom from discrimination, the right to our education, and many more. If we didn’t have these important rights, America wouldn’t be the same. These rights shape our country and the way we live.”

“What [also] makes our country even more fantastic is that we have men and women who fight for our country on a daily basis. Veterans and soldiers work very hard to protect us citizens from terror and danger. They risk their lives every day to make sure that we are in good hands. Don’t forget it’s about your local police officers, fire fighters, and EMTs. They also help protect you and keep you safe. So next time you see [one of these emergency personnel], make sure you go up to them and thank them for their service.”

Hanzl introduced the students to the post, informing them that eight members were involved in WWII. He said there are 1.5 million VFW members in the U.S. in 6,000 posts, and almost all conduct the two competitions. This year, New Jersey’s State Commander is the first woman state commander, Barbara Kim-Hagemann.

On Jan. 12, several Montville post members attended the District 10 general meeting at the Morris Plains VFW, at which the District level’s Voice of Democracy and Patriot’s Pen essay contest winners received their awards. Velocci was presented with a certificate and $100 check, and she was accompanied by her parents and grandfather, Nick Sisco, who has sung at many post ceremonies, Hanzl said.

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