Sewickley Academy student helping soldiers and families

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A Sewickley Academy student is working with the Family Readiness Group of the 303rd Tactical Psychological Operations Company of the U.S. Army Reserve Unit in Moon Township to make soldiers' lives a little easier.

At the end of January, academy junior Jack Matten and Moon Area High School sophomore John Bal teamed up with the Family Readiness Group, or FRG, which helps soldiers maintain contact with their families while deployed overseas.

The group provided the food, and the teens helped set up, serve and clean up a continental breakfast for 70 soldiers from the unit who then boarded buses to begin their one-year deployment to Afghanistan.

But, Matten and Bal didn't stop there.

As part of their personal projects for their schools, the teens are collecting donations for the soldiers and attempting to raise $1,000 for shipping.

“I thought this opportunity would be a great way to assist a group of recently deployed soldiers and help this organization,” said Matten, 16, son of Fran and Joann Matten of Moon Township.

The deadline to donate is April 1, and items will be shipped April 15. Matten and Bal are recruiting classmates to help package the items on the day of shipping.

Collection sites for donations are set up through Saturday at St. James Parish, 200 Walnut St., Sewickley, and through Monday at Moon Township Public Library, 1700 Beaver Grade Road.

Suggested items for care packages include: hard candy; white athletic socks; beef jerky; drink mixes; breath mints; playing cards; books; paperbacks; magazines; puzzle books; lip balm; lotion; petroleum jelly; greeting cards; shoe insoles; chewing gum; individually packaged cookies, crackers and chips that will not melt in hot temperatures; and cash donations to help with the cost of mailing.

“I cannot express how touched I am that Jack and John wanted to help us,” said Christine Span, FRG volunteer coordinator, who gave the boys a list of items and names of soldiers.

“Our military members, and their families, sacrifice more than most of us will understand. Whether they are on their first deployment or have had multiple separations, leaving loved ones is never easy.”

She said when the community reaches out such as Jack and John are doing, it lets the soldiers know their efforts are appreciated.

“In today's crazy world, it warms my heart that these young men care enough to want to make a difference. It helps restore my faith in our society.”

Span, of Moon Township, said the items collected will go to soldiers who will be working in a “dangerous environment with the potential to be exposed to unspeakable, life-threatening circumstances.

“The unit's teams visit Afghanistan communities and communicate with local leaders in an attempt to persuade them not to cooperate with ‘the enemy' and instead support American troop efforts,” she said.

The FRG is a volunteer organization that provides activities and support to soldiers and their families and practical tools for adjusting to military deployments and enhance the well-being and morale within the unit.

The group consists of unit family members, community members and volunteer civilians and receives no funding from the U.S. Army.

“Christine does great work with the families. She keeps them informed, and she brings them together so they can help support each other during their loved ones deployment,” Joann Matten said.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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