In December, Arvada resident Judy Teter will make the trip to the southwest end of Denver, where she ensures that wreaths will be laid to honor the service of thousands of veterans at a military cemetery.
“It’s not just about laying the wreath — it’s about honoring our veterans and what they did for us,” Teter said. “There’s a proper way to lay the wreath on the headstone, and you’re also supposed to say the veteran’s name and thank them for their service.
“Because a lot of the people that are buried out there don’t have family that comes out and visits them, so we’re honoring them,” Teter continued.
Nearly 100 cemetery locations in Colorado will take part in a national event that pays respect to interred veterans with balsam wreaths. Volunteers like Teter across the state work to support national nonprofit Wreaths Across America ahead of National Wreaths Across America Day, occurring this year on Dec. 16, according to a news release.
Teter volunteers as a coordinator for the effort to place thousands of wreaths at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, near U.S. Highway 285 and Sheridan Boulevard.
Roughly 123,000 veteran graves lie at Fort Logan, according to Wreaths Across America’s website. Teter says her team’s goal is to place 20,000 wreaths there on the day of the ceremony.
She works “with the cemetery administration as to what sections they want covered because we do not have enough wreaths that are sponsored to cover the whole cemetery,” Teter said.
“But I have a goal to hopefully one day get all of Fort Logan covered,” Teter said.
A few years ago, she found out about volunteering to place flags near headstones on Memorial Day.
Through that effort, she also heard about putting out the wreaths near Christmastime, and she jumped aboard.
“We wouldn’t be the United States of America with the freedoms that we have if it wasn’t for our servicemen and women,” Teter said.
Supporting other families in remembering their loved ones who served is part of her team’s role.
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On the day of the wreath ceremony, a part of the schedule is set aside for family members who ordered a wreath for their loved one’s specific grave.
“That starts at 1 p.m., so it’s a little more quiet for the families to remember, talk to their family member, whatever traditions they have,” Teter said. “Last year, there was a family who had a picnic lunch at their family member’s headstone.”
Looking for help
Teter and her volunteer team work hard behind the scenes to make sure Wreaths Across America Day is a success at Fort Logan.
But she’s looking for more volunteers and trying to drum up more fundraising support to pay for more wreaths and help cover the costs of the operation.
She’s seeking support from businesses who may want to pitch in, too.
“From what I understand, that has been a challenge for a lot of the coordinators, is trying to get companies that can donate X amount of (money) to sponsor X amount of wreaths,” Teter said.
She’s also looking for a volunteer with fundraising experience in particular.
“Or somebody who says, ‘Hey, I know how to (work) a forklift,’ or somebody who says, ‘I own a business or (I can provide) a forklift or pallet jack,’” Teter said.
Wreaths Across America is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so donating to it is considered tax deductible, according to Teter.
If you’re interested in volunteering or helping as a business, you can reach Teter at 720-329-8598 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where your money goes
Wreaths Across America was founded to continue and expand the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia that began in 1992, according to a news release.
The organization’s mission is carried out in part each year by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies in December at Arlington and thousands of veterans’ cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states and beyond, the release said.
Local sponsorship groups registered through the national program are helping to raise the necessary sponsorships to honor service members laid to rest in participating locations.
Since its founding in 2007, Wreaths Across America has partnered with thousands of local nonprofits and civic groups, according to the release.
For those looking to donate, the nonprofit seeks $17 per wreath, Teter said.
But the money goes a long way. Through the nonprofit’s “Pay-Back” program, sponsorship groups can earn $5 for every $17 veteran’s wreath sponsored to support these programs in their communities.
By making a $17 sponsorship, “you are also contributing to vital programs that make a meaningful difference in the lives of veterans and their families throughout the year,” the news release stated.
Some of the nonprofit’s free, year-round programs, according to the release, include:
- The Mobile Education Exhibit that travels the country, visiting schools and communities, teaching “the value of our freedom” while acting as an official welcome home center for living Vietnam veterans.
- Wreaths Across America Radio, which gives voice to volunteers and service members so that you can hear their stories “of courage and inspiration.”
- The Wreaths Across America National Museum, which is free and open to the public. It “highlights the bravery and service of rank-and-file veterans.”
- The Remembrance Tree Program, which creates a living memorial of service members giving back to other service members.
To order wreaths or offer support
To find a participating location or registered Wreaths Across America group to support in Colorado, visit Wreaths Across America’s website here.
You can donate to sponsor a wreath here.
You can also select an option to “honor or remember a specific person” here.
“There are different ways to make sure your loved one who served gets a wreath,” Teter said.
If your loved one is buried at a cemetery that doesn’t have a Wreaths Across America ceremony but you still want to order a wreath, you can have it sent to you or a family member, according to Teter.
Or you can pick it up at Fort Logan at 1 p.m. Dec. 16, she said.
“For people who are out of state who order them, we have a volunteer who will place them and send a picture (of the placement) to the family member,” Teter said.
You can reach out to Teter at the contact information above with any questions about ordering wreaths.