Erwin, now 43 and a master sergeant stationed in Afghanistan, has been in the Reserves since 1988. On active duty since 2004 when the couple's first child, son Mikkel, was born, he's been on distant stateside assignments or overseas most of the years since. Jeanette says he's been on leave or stationed nearby and home about one-and-a-half years as Mikkel and his younger sister, Amalie, 4, have been growing up in their home on Bonita Avenue near St. Augustine Catholic Church. Later this month, he'll be deactivated and back home to stay, looking for a job as he re-starts his civilian life.
Jeanette has been active in her work with the military families group for nearly 10 years and she plans to continue this effort. She's been part of every fundraiser, every packout when the group sends "CARE" packages to Pleasanton troops and at public events, including the Veterans Day parade and last month's Memorial Day tribute at the Veterans Memorial Building.
Last Friday, she led the effort initiated by Mikkel in his third-grade class at Valley View Elementary School and the school's counselor Abby Johnson to make 13 more tie blankets for seriously wounded soldiers being treated at a veterans clinic in Palo Alto. When Mikkel suggested the project to Johnson, she helped secure a $300 grant from the Pleasanton Partners in Education (PPIE) Foundation to buy the yards of fleece material to make the blankets. Parents and students pitched in during the school's multicultural fair, no doubt spurred on by a photo from Vietnam veteran Charles Simmon holding an earlier blanket the Ricafrentes had made. Recovering at the Palo Alto clinic from a stroke, Simmon posed with his dog in a picture the students posted at the fair as new blankets were being made.
For many students at Valley View, as is true across the country, Afghanistan and the U.S. soldiers stationed there are scenes they've seen on television but have little direct knowledge of. As Pleasanton American Legion post commander Rich Ghera told those at a Memorial Day ceremony May 27, fewer than 1% of the 300 million Americans serve in the military forces today and fewer than 5% even know a military family. Mikkel, with the help of his teachers and counselor Johnson have changed that, with scores of students and their parents asking Mikkel about his father and contributing fleece and funds to the blanket-making project.
Pat Frizzell, chairwoman of the Pleasanton Military Families Support Group, acknowledged that work. She told Mikkel: "I am very proud of your teacher and counselor and whole class for doing such great work for our troops. I am especially proud of you for writing a grant to get money to make more blankets. I know your dad must be smiling so big telling all his soldiers what a fine son you are."
Mikkel wrote his own letter that is now being sent along with the blankets to wounded soldiers in Palo Alto. It reads:
"Dear Soldier, Hi, my name is Mikkel Ricafrente, son of MSG. Ricafrente. On the picture, I am the one at the bottom right. One day Ms. Johnson, the school counselor, thought we should make a project for soldiers. I suggested weaving on looms, but then Ms. Johnson had an idea. We could make tie blankets and sign them! My Teacher gave my mom the Email addresses to all the parents to tell them to bring fleece. After a few days, donations came rolling in. Some people donated fleece, others came with money. Finally, the big day arrived! We tied a double knot then signed them. I also wrote a grant. The grant was for making more tie blankets. Now we will offer them to you. Thank you for serving this country! Cuddle up and enjoy! From, Mikkel, Valley View Elementary, Pleasanton."
Tomorrow during Farmers Market, Jeanette, Mikkel and Amalie Ricafrente will join the Pleasanton Military Families group at a pancake breakfast fundraiser in Delucchi Park. They'll have a few of the fleece blankets with them. Come, take a look and thank this enterprising family that's making life a bit more comfortable for our military veterans.