LAND O’ LAKES — When some of America’s greatest treasures gather in Tampa Bay in October, they will take time to visit some of the area’s greatest treasures, middle school and high school students.
The purpose of the visit is the Character Development Program of the Medal of Honor Foundation.
Hundreds of local teachers have already been trained for the program and the Medal of Honor recipients will collect the work and experiences of both teachers and students to showcase the lessons and ideals of selfless service that have been initiated as a result of these lessons of integrity, sacrifice, courage, patriotism, citizenship and commitment.
More than 850 area teachers have been trained to teach the curriculum.
Pinellas County has held three training sessions while Pasco County held two last year and is planning two more this year.
Mark Van Trees, who serves as the organization’s chairman of the board and is the executive director of the nonprofit group Support the Troops, spoke at the most recent meeting of the Pasco School Board.
“We will have 50 Medal of Honor recipients here for the convention,” Van Trees told the board. “It will be the largest gathering of its kind in history.”
He added one of the reasons for the large turnout is the Character Building Program.
“What they focus on is leaving a legacy — knowing that on the worst day of your life you did the right thing at the right time for the right reason,” he said.
Van Trees said when students have the opportunity to meet the American heroes, they will ask them, “Why did you do it?”
“They will tell them, ‘I was only doing the right thing and you can do that every day,’” he said.
Van Trees said the impact of the program and those meetings between the honorees and the students has been “significant.”
“Pasco County has been one of the leaders embracing the Character Development Program,” he added, noting the Foundation is prepared to continue the program for at least the next five years.
Last November, Van Trees was named a Community Hero by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation.