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Montessori kids raise money for wounded GIs

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By Stephen Knapp

April 6’s inaugural Spring Fling celebration at the Montessori campus in Marshdale was more than just good fun. It was good fun for a good cause.

“We’re giving everything we raise to Wounded Warriors,” said Montessori eighth-grader Jim Reynolds, a major mover behind the frolicsome April 6 fund-raiser. Though just 14, Jim’s already looking forward to graduating as top cadet at West Point. “It’s an organization that brings awareness to what wounded soldiers need, and it helps them heal physically, mentally and spiritually. I think it’s important.”

Truth be told, the children could have chosen to get behind any number of worthy causes. That they chose Wounded Warriors is thanks in large part to retired Montessori teacher Nancy Benedict and her husband, Jack.

“We wanted to let the kids pick what they were going to raise money for, and we had a lot of different speakers come in and talk to them,” explains Teri Leek, who teaches Montessori’s poetically titled community service class, Gratitude with an Attitude. “I think what Jack said touched everybody. After he spoke, the kids were unanimous for Wounded Warriors. He’s amazing. He’s like this little, gentle man with no legs, and I don’t think he’s missed a step in his life.”

Whatever his gifts as a public speaker, Jack Benedict is, himself, the most powerful message Wounded Warriors could ask for. During his second tour in Vietnam, Jack lost both legs at the knees to a landmine. While convalescing at Fitzsimons Army Hospital, he took up skiing. Since then, he’s served as director of the U.S. disabled ski team, become a certified scuba instructor, and mastered the intricacies of golf and whitewater rafting. He was also instrumental in transforming the Para-Olympics into a main event.

“When a soldier gets seriously wounded, they lose their freedom of movement,” Nancy said. “Sports make them free again.”

Jack couldn’t make the April 6 party, being otherwise detained with the U.S. Disabled Ski Team in Winter Park. It was too bad, because he missed a very good time. For the $20 price of admission — all of it destined for Wounded Warriors — guests could fuel up at a fabulous lunch buffet before skipping off to try their little hands at traditional entertainments like ping-pong, or more fashionable activities like the Xbox, Guitar Hero, Karaoke and Dance Dance Revolution tournaments.

Montessori students Laynie Barringer and Olivia Caldwell-Nepveux seemed to be enjoying themselves, and goodness knows they deserved to. The two 11-year-olds had spent a big hunk of their young lives making Wounded Warrior presentations to their classmates, designing promotional posters, and Spring-Flinging maybe 20 miles of brightly colored crepe paper onto every static feature of the Marshdale campus. Then again, they wouldn’t have done it if they didn’t believe in the cause.

“I think it’s cool that they teach the soldiers how to ski,” Olivia said thoughtfully. “If you’re missing, like, limbs, and feel sorry for yourself, that would make you feel better.”

“Warriors do so much for us,” observed Laynie. “It’s nice when you get a chance to help them back.”