The Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation’s character development program helps educators teach courage, selfless service.
“We have to save these children,” proclaimed a New York City guidance counselor. “They are lost, and they don’t even know they’re lost.”
That comment came toward the end of a seven-hour intensive workshop called “The Medal of Honor Character Development Program,” created and run by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation and funded by Morgan Stanley.
“Everybody has the potential to do heroic things without having to go into combat,” said Ron Rand, President and CEO of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. “The goal of this program is to teach that, regardless of what you do in life, if you make every decision on a foundation of values—about serving others, about sacrificing, about standing up for what you believe in—you’ll have a purposeful and rewarding life.”
Morgan Stanley supports the Foundation’s character development program, which helps educators understand and teach the values of Medal of Honor recipients, including sacrifice, citizenship and integrity.
Guidance counselors representing dozens of schools throughout the New York City public school system braved a frigid snowy morning, eager to learn how to teach students about character by sharing the stories of Medal of Honor recipients.
“Mine was during the middle of the Tet offensive in 1968,” retired Colonel Jack Jacobs told the audience. “I was just a work-a-day infantry soldier doing what I had to do, and got into a really big pickle. But, as a lot of recipients will tell you, the Medal of Honor is not yours. You’re just holding it in trust for the nation and succeeding generations. You weren’t the only valorous guy on that day. Many did not come back. So you wear it for all those who also did something courageous but can’t wear it.”
“Morgan Stanley supports the Medal of Honor Foundation because that's the kind of conduct, those are the types of human beings, that we admire and we want to be associated with,” said Greg Fleming, President of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management and Investment Management, respectively. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society was chartered by Congress and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958, as a way to preserve the medal’s legacy and its values. Its membership comprises all living recipients of the Medal of Honor.
“When I was decorated, there were almost 400 living recipients,” said Jacobs. “Today, there are only 79 of us, and 70 are over 70 years old. As our numbers got smaller, we got more concerned about how we were going to make an impact.”
“We knew whatever we did, it would have to be done quickly,” Jacobs added. “We looked at our education system and thought, one of the variables was the lack of instruction about community, service, sacrifice and patriotism.”
With support from the GE Foundation, Jacobs and the Medal of Honor Foundation went to Erie, PA, where GE had a manufacturing facility and where a majority of the district’s students were considered at risk.
“We spent two years working with the Erie teachers, who reviewed videos of Medal of Honor recipients and put together the character development program,” said Jacobs. “They then tested it on their own students, with absolutely remarkable results. These kids never had anybody tell them they have a responsibility as a member of a community to take care of each other. Their response: ‘Why haven’t I been taught about values and character before now?’ ”
The Foundation has been teaching this curriculum for about four years. Today, it is in 50 school districts in 38 states.
“This is our first foray into the New York City schools,” said Rand, who added that much of that credit goes to Vincent Colucci, Regional Business Development Manager for Morgan Stanley’s New York Metro Region.
“My team and I have been working closely with the New York City public school system on how we can deliver the program,” said Colucci. “We have so many students out there looking for role models and for ways to help the community.”
At the program’s core are the values that drove Medal of Honor recipients to behave the way they did: courage, sacrifice, commitment, integrity, citizenship and patriotism.
“These values reside in all of us,” said Bill Kuhar, one of two trainers conducting the all-day seminar. “We’re asking the kids to take a look and say, ‘This is an American hero, but they are also ordinary Americans, and every American can be a hero in their own special way.’ ”
Courtney Straka, the other trainer, agreed, adding: “The most important thing is that when students watch these vignettes, they see their grandfather, their neighbor, their uncle. They see themselves. They say ‘I understand what courage is now.’ ”