During a Monday assembly on the day after Veterans Day, Billings Senior High School kicked off an effort to raise $10,000 to help Montana Veterans and challenged other schools in the area to do the same.
"They've done so much for us," said Kellen Wartnow, student council president. "We should be able to do something for them."
The schoolwide fundraising effort will run until Dec. 21 and everything raised will be donated to Big Sky Honor Flight, the Montana chapter of a program that sends aging military veterans to Washington D.C. to see their war memorials.
Most of the school's 1,800 students attended the late-afternoon assembly, where staff showed them an Honor Flight video explaining the program and faculty who have served were honored, as well as a handful of veterans from the community.
"What a great way to give back and to honor these people," said social studies teacher Duane Van Atta, who first brought the fundraiser idea up at the school. "The Student Council has really taken it and run with it. What a great civic project for all of these kids."
Big Sky Honor Flight has already taken nearly 200 Montana veterans to Washington and a third trip is set for April, with 300 veterans waiting to go. Each flight costs about $155,000.
Van Atta said the idea came to him after seeing West High raise more than $5,000 for Honor Flight. He figured using the cross-town rivalry for a good cause would be an effective way to get the student body fired up to help and floated the idea to the school's student council.
"We hope the competition will get people going for it," Van Atta said. "Senior High is a very generous place and we know we can do better."
At one point during the assembly, students with loved ones in the military were asked to stand and more than 150 responded. Nolee Anderson, student council vice president, said that says a lot about the fundraiser's potential.
"We have a lot of military members with ties to our community and ties to our school," she said. "It's important to a lot of people."
Some fundraising efforts have already kicked off. Key Club is selling pies from Perkins, with half of the price going to the effort.
Kellen said that each fourth-period classroom will also have a jar placed in it where students can donate change toward the effort.
On top of that, different groups and organizations within the school will organize their own efforts.
"We don’t care how they raise it," Van Atta said. "It’s mostly going to be however clubs, teams, classes, organizations and faculty want it to be."
The school will hold a special ceremony during a basketball game on Dec. 21 to present the donation.