MERRILL - Kids spend hours of their free time every week handcrafting wooden pens at Prairie River Middle School in Merrill.
They chop, whittle, and sand wooden pens for veterans.
"They don't know these veterans. They don't know what war they were in or what they did, but they do understand what they did created freedom for us," said manufacturing and construction teacher Pete McConnell.
This project isn't for a class. The eighth-graders do it for the Freedom Pen Project.
McConnell got the idea from a friend who works with the Badger Honor Flight near Madison.
"I asked him, 'Can I steal your idea?' And he said, 'I'd love for you to do that,'" said McConnell.
Since the project started in January, the kids have made more than 75 pens.
Those pens will be given to veterans taking the Never Forgotten Honor Flight in May.
"They have no fear," McConnell said of the students. "They trust me, they trust the process. They're not afraid of the machine. At first they might be."
McConnell had to do a lot of research on that process in his free time so the kids could take away even more woodworking knowledge.
"I've heard of wood pens and how they made them, but I have never seen it done, so I wondered if I could do that," said eighth-grader Izayah King.
King has been cranking out pens for the last couple of months. He even got the chance to honor his grandfather, who fought in the Navy.
"When I gave it to him he just loved it. It just made his day. It made me so happy and made me love what I do here," said King.
Purpleheart, walnut, padauk: each student can rattle of the type of wood they use for the pens, and whether the detail on the pen is gunmetal or gold.
"A veteran that fought for my country is going to get something that I made for him. It's a way to show my gratitude," said Tavius Morris.
Kennedy Berndt feels that way too. She decided to do the Freedom Pen workshops in her free time, even though her friends didn't want to.
"They didn't want to get lacquer on their hands or anything like that," said Berndt.
It doesn't bother her though.
The group plans to keep cranking out pens until they meet their goal of 100 pens.
Then those pens will be boxed up and given to the veterans before the Honor Flight takes off May 22.
McConnell plans to keep the project up for future honor flights.
"It's why I teach," said McConnell. "Children always make it better."
Contact Pete McConnell: