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‘Remember, honor, teach’

Wreaths Across America military nonprofit visits Masonic Village

Special to The Sun
Anda Durso, executive director of Masonic, and Air Force Sgt. Michael D. Wynne are all smiles at Masonic’s veterans remembrance ceremony, presented by Wreaths Across America and Masonic.

The nonprofit Wreaths Across America (WAA) and its network of volunteers placed more than 2.7 million sponsored veterans wreaths on headstones of the nation’s service members at 3,702 participating locations this year.

It was accomplished with the support of more than 5,000 sponsorship groups, corporate contributions and in-kind donations from the transportation industry across the country, according to the WAA website.

Last month, Masonic Village at Burlington served as an official stop for the 2023 National Wreaths Across America Convoy from Harrington, Maine, to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

It was the first year that the senior living community participated in the nationally recognized wreath placements. The Wreaths Across America Mobile Education Unit (MEE) brings local communities and military together with education, stories and interactive connections. The exhibit is equipped with a 24-person screening room that showcases aspects of the WAA’s mission through video.

The purpose of the MEE is to not only teach the next generation about service and sacrifice, but to share stories of patriotism from around the U.S.

“We do a lot of veterans’ recognition celebrations that we thought this would be even more visible and sustainable because it’s a national effort,” said Anda Durso, Masonic’s executive director. “We wanted to recognize them (veterans) and make sure that they continue to be appreciated for their service to their country.”

” … Respect and service are two of the most important values that Freemasonry is based upon,” she added. “It definitely ties into the whole Wreaths Across America mission as well, so they’re very closely related.”

Special to The Sun
Ceremonial wreaths are shown at the Masonic Village at Burlington last month.

Freemasonry refers to fraternal organizations that trace their origins to local guilds of stonemasons from the end of the 13th century, according to Masonic’s website. The Masonic Home of New Jersey was founded more than 100 years ago, and the Masons of New Jersey built a tremendous resource for the care of seniors.

Now expanded to provide a full continuum of care from Independent Living through end-of-life hospice care, The Masonic Home of New Jersey is now known as Masonic Village at Burlington to reflect the diversity found in this senior community.

Alyssa Gruenes, director of marketing at Masonic and one of the spouses of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, reflected on her part in making the Wreaths Across America event happen.

“As a military wife myself – and as someone that has worked in health care for the last 10 years – watching what my husband does and incorporating the military life into what I can do at my job here at Masonic has been quite remarkable,” Gruenes noted.

“ … There’s a whole training that we go through for our health care and how to take care of our military properly,” she added, “and so that’s been ingrained in me for the last 10 years. To be able to use that and to teach that now to other people that are coming in has been great.”

The local wreath event also included a veterans remembrance ceremony presented by Masonic and WAA.

“We’re teaching our children that we live in the greatest country on Earth, and we truly do, but we do have to be vigilant,” explained Karen Worcester, executive director of WAA. “When we come into communities like this, when we’re allowed to take the time to pause and shake the hand of a World War II veteran … I think what Wreaths Across America does best is listen, listen to the heart of America, and connect the dots …

“The good people of this country are already doing the mission: remember, honor, teach.”

For more information on Masonic or WAA, visit their official websites.

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