PITTSFIELD -- One in four residents at EPOCH at Melbourne Assisted Living is a military veteran.
The majority of these 24 residents served in World War II, and though they are decades past their days of duty, they still carry their service stories with them with pride.
They and other veterans will share their stories during a craft fair today -- with some creative help from students of Stearns Elementary School.
Most of the proceeds of the fair will benefit American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War posts in Pittsfield and Dalton, because their veterans support EPOCH's veterans, according to Sherry Pease. She is the organization's life enrichment director who works in part to coordinate outreach initiatives for residents who are veterans.
"I can't speak enough about what people do for veterans here," she said.
EPOCH at Melbourne is a community partner to Stearns Elementary. Over the summer, Pease began coordinating with fourth-grade teacher Lidia White on two multi-generational programs.
One is an after-school program through which three students -- fifth-grader Narisa Tratnell, fourth-grader Emily Adler, and third-grader Kole Nylic -- participate. For eight weeks, the students visit residents to play board and card games and share conversation.
The other program involves 32 fourth-graders, who were each assigned an EPOCH resident to write letters to and color pictures for, acknowledging the veterans services and actions.
"They really got into it," White said of the students. "It's good for them because it gives them a purpose for writing."
Students also created patriotic paper wreaths and hand-painted flags for display, sale and raffle at the craft fair.
On Friday afternoon, Pease showed Caroline Zahn -- currently EPOCH's only female veteran -- a letter written to her from fourth-grader Sam Sherman. The two have never met, but Sherman's words brought a smile to Zahn's face.
"You are really brave for going into the Navy and fighting for America," he wrote.
Zahn, who grew up in North Adams, served as an ensign for the Navy Nurse Corps. She was 21 when she enlisted.
"As I nurse, I took care of people who had been hurt, but I didn't feel like I did anything compared to those men who were out there fighting," she said.
Her husband, Edwin Zahn, of Pittsfield, served as a radio man and gunner on a B-17. His plane was shot down over France in 1943 and he was a prisoner of war for 17 months.
Still, Mrs. Zahnsays enlisting to help was "the best thing" she's ever done.
"I think this is great," she said of the students' projects. "It will give the children a chance to realize that we may look old and broken down but have had a life we lived and tried to give what we could to others."
Another component of today's craft fair, as well as ongoing work to support veterans at EPOCH, is the volunteer work of two local Vietnam veterans, Will Losaw and Tyrone Belanger.
"They're the reason we're doing this," Pease said.
Two nights a week, Losaw visits, often with other musicians as well as his pet pug Milo, to entertain residents. He plays in the facilities café, and also visits the memory care unit.
"Those residents truly need music," Pease said.
Belanger visits every other week to run a "veterans' stories" group, during which resident veterans can remember, reconcile and relish one another's company.
At 96, Sidney Solomon is EPOCH's oldest veteran, who served to prepare troops in the United States before shipping off during World War II. He enlisted on his own at age 18 and married his wife, Shirley, and they had their first child during the war.
Solomon often goes to Belanger's group, with Shirley and their caregiver Lisa Turner by his side. He wears a blanket that says "U.S. Veteran" on the back of his wheelchair and sometimes wears a cap reading the same.
"I'll be here (Saturday)," he said. "I'm very proud."
To reach Jenn Smith:
or (413) 496-6239.
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink
If you go
n What: Craft fair to benefit veterans, with support from Stearns Elementary School. The event will include 17 regional vendors as well as children's crafts and raffles.
n When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today
n Where: EPOCH at Melbourne Assisted Living, 140 Melbourne Road, Pittsfield.
n Information: Call (413) 499-1992.