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Hillside Middle School Sends Heart-Warming Letters to U.S. Navy Lieutenant Stationed in Cuba

April 13, 2021


Hillside Middle School students sent encouraging notes and colorful drawings to a Normandy High School graduate serving our country in Cuba.

Ryan Chambers '10 is a lieutenant in the United States Navy, currently deployed to the Naval Hospital in Guantanamo Bay. He is a registered nurse, the Assistant Department Head of the emergency room at the hospital, and the Chief Nursing Informatics Officer.

According to information from the U.S. Naval Hospital in Guantanamo Bay, “the hospital employs approximately 250 personnel (officer, enlisted, civilian, contractor and foreign nationals) which support a base population of approximately 6,000, many of whom are military family members, government civilian employees and their families, special category residents, contractors, foreign nationals and migrants.”

Since the beginning of the COVID-19, Chambers has not been able to have visitors or leave the base. It is the first time he has been far away from home for an extended time.

Chambers’ mom, Mary Kay Chambers, who works at Hillside as a Special Education Assistant, said one day she was chatting with Kasey Kellem, Guidance Counselor at Hillside (who was Chambers’ counselor at Normandy) about Ryan. After they talked, Kellem wanted to get the school involved to send him letters from home.

“I thought it would be nice for our students to write some letters to him because I imagine it must be stressful working at the hospital during Covid with limited activities and no visitors,” Kellem shared. “I reached out to the ELA teachers and they were all on board with their students writing him letters and some even drew pictures. Teachers Connie Loeschen, Thadda Layhew and Allie Krupp really supported this project.”

The school is sending between 300 – 500 hand-written letters to Cuba, and Chambers will get the surprise care package soon.

“I think this is so sweet, and I hope it warms his heart,” Kellem expressed. “I wanted students to make the connection with someone who is serving our country, leading by example and taking care of others in the hospital during this pandemic. He is a proud graduate of our district, so to be able to connect with him is really special, too.”

“I also hope this opens students’ eyes to a possible career,” she added. “We focus a lot on career tech and college prep, so maybe a student who wanted to be in the military is now thinking about serving our country in a medical field.”

Hillside seventh-graders Phoenix Myers and Isabel Kroth said they enjoyed this project and wanted to share a little more about who they are with Chambers. 

“I wanted him to know everything about me like my dog, favorite foods and favorite hobbies,” Myers shared. “I thought it was a cool project. It hit a little hard because my grandfather was in Vietnam.” 

“I wrote about what my family has been doing during the pandemic,” Kroth explained. “During Covid, I am not really allowed to see friends and sometimes even family, so I know what that feels like and I shared what I did to keep my mind off of those things. I liked this project because it gave me a chance to think about what has been happening over this year and what we have been going through. It also shows how we can relate to each other and I want him to know that he is not the only one going through this. We will get through it.”

Both students asked Chambers about his favorite hobbies, what he does in his free time, and what his job is like, with hopes that Chambers can write back soon!

“I never expected that the school would send him a stack of letters,” Mary Kay Chambers expressed. “It was so thoughtful and very nice. Hats off to Mrs. Kellem for organizing this and thank you so much.”