Wauwatosa students and staff raise $5,000 to send veterans on Honor Flight trip
To say Chad Mateske is proud of the generosity of students and colleagues he works with is an understatement.
“Most of the money was coming from people reaching into their pockets and putting money in the buckets.”
In just two weeks, East and West High Schools raised a combined total of $5,044.78 - mostly from pocket change - for the Stars & Stripes Honor Flight. It's enough money to send 10 veterans on a trip to Washington D.C.
Mateske, a social studies teacher at West High School, organized the fundraiser for the second year. And for him, the effort is personal.
“Having family that served and having been in the military myself, I appreciate what Honor Flight is all about,” said Mateske.
Mateske committed 10 years to the United States Army Reserve and deployed to Kuwait in 2003 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His father Dennis was a Vietnam veteran.
“In the process of fueling planes, he was next to and worked with Agent Orange almost every day.”
Dennis died in 2014 after a two-year battle with Stage 4 prostate cancer. Doctors believe the disease was a direct result of the elder Mateske’s assignment in Vietnam.
“The Veterans Affairs Office did a medical test and reviewed where he served, what his job was, among other things and acknowledged that his prostate cancer was a direct connection to Agent Orange exposure.”
In 2013, Chad gave his father an application for Honor Flight at Christmas, hoping they could apply for an expedited trip due to his father’s health. Sadly, Mr. Mateske succumbed to his cancer before he was able to get on a flight.
The loss birthed Chad’s idea to raise funds for others to go on the trip.
“I think that one of the most powerful parts of Honor Flight the Movie, is when the Honor Flight volunteers talk about when they start making the calls in the spring to veterans on the wait list and the families say, ‘I’m sorry they passed away over the winter’. The volunteers talk about how they can’t get through the names of the wait list fast enough,” said Mateske. “I think that’s probably one of the big motivators for me is seeing that and then feeling that myself a few years after the movie came out. We’re losing time and we need to move and do what we need to do to get people through the list.”
In the second year of raising funds for Honor Flight, Mateske wanted to maximize the efforts and have some fun. He contacted his colleague Erin Gould at East High School to see if she was up for a friendly cross-city competition for which school could raise more money.
The teamwork and prize of pride worked. Together, they raised more than three times the amount from last year.
“I think it’s just about trying to raise money, let young people feel like they’re doing good things in the community and that the community knows that young people do good things in the community.”
Mateske plans to arrange a donation of the funds to Honor Flight representatives during class as an opportunity for students to hear for themselves the impact their giving will have.
As for the competition, Mateske hopes to revisit it next year. For now, Ms. Gould and East have bragging rights with a $44.78 win over West.