Student club connects with veterans to get their stories

Livia Lowe, science editor

Veterans heritage project, or VHP, is a club where students interview veterans to record their war stories for a book they publish later on in the year.
VHP is a non-profit organization that started as an after school club at Cactus Shadows in 2004 by a social studies teacher, Barbara Hatch.
“I joined originally because I knew of some high school students that were in the club and my sister actually took Mrs Hatch’s class, who started the club, so it seemed like an interesting opportunity to improve my writing and get better interview skills,” said Maya Ochoa, a junior.
The idea sparked when Hatch showed the film Saving Private Ryan to her history class. She then reached out to a local sector of the organization Veterans of Foreign Wars to have a veteran come and speak to her students. The club only grew from there. She was offered a grant to expand the club into more schools across Arizona.
When Mrs. Hatch ran the club, she had a masterlist of veterans for the students to choose from that she either knew personally, or knew through the other veterans. If members have family members or someone they know who have served, they are welcome to interview them.
“Just being a member I wanted to do more than I could, as a president I help lay out the book, edit pictures and stories, It’s about taking the leadership role and leading meetings, arranging fundraisers so just a little extra work,” said Ochoa.
Most members in the club have been a part of the club since middle school as the club takes a lot of dedication and time.
“At the beginning of the year it’s more about trying to figure out what veterans you’re going to interview, and towards the end of the year once we have a lot of the interviews in, we focus more on editing the stories and putting the book together,” said Jaclyn Russek, a senior.
The book is called Since you asked and it is a compilation of all of the students’ interviews and there are multiple volumes, each volume coming out of different schools, and regions of the state.
“The most engaging and important part is when you just sit down face to face with a war hero and you just listen to things from their perspective. You get told stuff that no one else has ever heard, even their own family sometimes,” said Bret Lineburg, club advisor for VHP.
March marks the beginning of the speaker series, where veterans are invited to the lecture hall to share their stories with classes who sign up. Covid has slowed these down in the last year but the club hopes to do more with the series next year.