Sitting at a table in the Redwood Falls National guard Armory Dec. 19, Grace Caraway was greeting volunteers. The seventh grader at Redwood Valley Middle School, donning a Santa hat, was helping people check in for their roles with the monthly Ruby’s Pantry food distribution event in Redwood Falls.

Knowing many of them by name, Caraway greeted them with a smile and some brief conversation. The adult volunteers know her, too, because Caraway, the daughter of Marty and Lindsey Caraway is there for nearly every one of the Tuesdays when Ruby’s Pantry is held.

Caraway said she enjoys the chance she has to volunteer.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she said, adding that is especially true, because she knows she is helping others. In addition to working at Ruby’s Pantry, Caraway said she helps out in other events in the community, including the Apple Gourd project during the summer.

When she is not busy volunteering, Caraway is active in school as a member of the cross country team.

“I like to run,” she said.

This year Caraway is also planning to join the speech team at Redwood Valley, because she knows having that skill of speaking in front of others is one she will need for the rest of her life.

Caraway got the chance to practice her speaking skills in November when she read an essay she had written for the Patriot’s Pen patriotic essay contest sponsored by Redwood County VFW Post 2553.

The theme for Caraway’s essay was “America’s Gift to My Generation.”

“My dad told me about it,” said Caraway, who placed first in the contest for students in Grades 6-8.

Caraway said she likes writing, adding it gives her the chance to think about and explore different topics and then write about them in her own way.

For her, writing about patriotism is easy, because it is something that is important to her.

In her spare time, Caraway likes to read, adding it doesn’t matter what kind of book it is. Caraway added right now she is reading a book about World War II.

Caraway admitted she was excited to hear she had won the contest, and even though she was a bit nervous she agreed speaking in front of the entire RVMS/HS student body, in addition to a number of people from the community at the Veterans Day program (below), was a great opportunity.

“I practiced it a lot the night before,” she said, adding she was honored to have been chosen, because there were so many other kids who had entered essays, too.

What follows is Caraway’s winning essay.

America’s Gift to My Generation

Gift; A thing that is given willingly to someone without payment. This is the dictionary’s definition and it may have a multitude of moments in which gifts are given.

American culture has accepted that gifts are to be given in celebration of a holiday as defined by religious or calendar dates. The gift that America has given my generation is not one that can be unwrapped or placed in a bag covered with tissue paper. It is a gift that has been given in a casket draped with the colors of Old Glory. It is a gift that cannot be opened but rather experienced an honored. We live the gift.

Freedom is an amazing gift, but most kids my age don’t think about it. They don’t think about everyone that has given their life so we could be free and safe, the sacrifices that have been made. They especially don’t think about how our current U.S. military is based on volunteerism, versus required service.

We as Americans are fortunate that we don’t have to join the military if we don’t want to, we have the freedom to choose. It is the people that choose to serve our nation, to put their life on the line so their friends, family, and all Americans can live in a nation where we can benefit from their protection.

There are many places in the world where people and kids are not free like they are in the United States. They don’t have the gift of freedom as we know it. I realize that I am safe, can work at being a good student and still be a kid. There are nations that do not have these freedoms that require children to work to support their families instead of pursuing education.

A gift to me is something that has a lot of thought put into it, but it doesn't have to be big or small in size, it is the effort and the value in it that counts.

America has given my generation many gifts, but freedom is the one that all others derive from.

We have our military members and veterans to thank for upholding and protecting our freedom.