Middle school students are often busy with homework, sports and friends, with little time for much outside their own world.
Lauren Wright, 14, is different.
"If Lauren is any indication of our future, we are in really good hands," said DeeDe Baker, founder of Dog Tag Buddies, a Billings organization that partnered with Wright in its mission to pair disabled veterans with service dogs.
Ten months ago, Wright was an eighth-grade student at Lewis and Clark Middle School in Billings. Her history teacher asked her to come to a meeting about a service project he thought she would be interested in.
“Students are volunteers that come into the Two Roads project," said Jamie Jarvis, who teaches eighth-grade history at Lewis and Clark while also running the Two Roads project. "They don’t know what it is they are volunteering for. They just know that they are coming to a meeting with their parents, and they have an opportunity to possibly change their lives and the lives of people around town.”
Jarvis has been at the helm of the Two Roads project since 2010. Each student is given $100, which is secured through grants, and 90 days for their project. The goal is to inspire young people into a life of service by empowering them to impact their communities at a young age.
"It is amazing to see what they do," said Jarvis. "There is no pushing by me. I don't give them a curriculum, I don't give them ideas. I tell the parents, as hard as it is going to be, please stay away. Let the students feel the weight and the responsibility of that $100."
Wright's project came from her heart as a way to honor her grandfather, who served in the Korean War. She teamed up with Dog Tag Buddies and created her own organization called My Vets Friend to provide veterans going through the training program with a bag filled with everything they need to get through the course. She enlisted the help of Red Oxx, a local veteran-owned company, to make the bags and filled them with a leash, treats and waste bags for the veteran-dog teams to use.
"I wanted to help Montana veterans just like my grandpa," said Wright.
For a reserved teen, pushing herself to reach out to area business owners to make her project work was just a part of the process.
“She partnered with Red Oxx, which is another amazing thing," said Jarvis. "You see these kids - 14 years old - going out into the community and working with adults. I mean, think of how intimidating that is."
“It's just truly inspiring that she understands. She has a grasp on how important our veterans are to our country, how important our military personnel are to our country and that she is willing to do something to help them,” said Baker.
Through fundraisers on Facebook and making and selling dog bandanas at Exotic Pets in Billings, Wright was able to stretch the initial $100 investment and provide bags for every veteran going through training with Dog Tag Buddies.
After months of waiting, she was able to hand them out to those veterans on Wednesday.
"It means a lot that a young girl, anybody, but especially somebody that young has the foresight to want to help out disabled vets," said Nichoals Aristonic, a veteran of the US Navy. "It means a lot to us."
While at the end of the day it may just be a tool for their training, this act of kindness by a thoughtful middle school student means so much more.
"It makes me feel like I'm not alone," said Aristonic. "Since I've got out of the military I've felt pretty alone. So it's nice having somebody that cares."
At the ceremony on Wednesday, Congressman Greg Gianforte and Sen. Steve Daines both recognized the work done by Wright.
Daines presented Wright with his US Senate Challenge coin, which are often given to those as a way to recognize exceptional achievement.