Mariayaha Morehouse and Tom Lathrop

St. Joseph Academy (SJA) eighth grade students Mackenzie Riley and Mariayaha Morehouse had the unique opportunity to participate in Bay View Community Center’s first Veterans Connect Initiative. The students had an interest in learning veterans’ stories, especially since they both have family members currently serving or have served in the military.

“The person I interviewed was a mechanic in the Navy,” Riley said. “She told me that some of the men she worked with thought it wasn’t right that she was there or that she wouldn’t be as good as them. But she did a great job!”

“At first I was so nervous, but then when I talked to (the person I interviewed), it was pretty chill,” Morehouse said. “He talked about his wife and his friends. But he also talked about some sad stuff, like how he had to carry his friend’s body onto a helicopter.”

Debby Lathrop, left, and Mackenzie Riley

The students were paired with Debby and Tom Lathrop, who both served in the Navy for a combined 51 years. Tom joined the Navy right after high school and survived four combat wars. He shared that although losing his friends in battle was hard, having to share the news to their families was “even harder than having to deal with them dying.”

Debby joined the Navy when she was 30 years old, noting that it was “the best decision I ever made in my life.” When she joined the Navy as a mechanic, women in the military were treated differently, especially in a position that was often dominated by males. “At the time I joined, everything was separate,” she said. “The women went to a different boot camp. Everything was still in the new stages so I like the fact that I did that.”

The Veterans Connect Initiative paired seventh and eighth grade students from seven area schools with veterans. The interviews were then published on and will also be archived in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Both SJA students said they enjoyed participating in Veterans Connect and would encourage other students to do the same.

“It was a great experience,” Riley said. “I enjoyed hearing other people’s stories.”

Mike Mortell, President & CEO at Bay View Community Center, said that the students now have the skills needed to engage in meaningful conversations and garner life stories from other people.

“The students have learned the skill of asking questions – and perhaps more importantly, practiced patience in listening,” he said.  “I would challenge everyone to listen to a couple of these interviews. The stories are powerful and I give the students a lot of credit for stepping up to do this.” 

SJA eighth grade students Mackenzie Riley, left, and Mariayaha Morehouse at the Veterans Connect Initiative dinner hosted by the Bay View Community Center. See the links below to hear their interviews with Navy veterans Debby and Tom Lathrop.

Mackenzie’s interview:

Mariayaha’s interview:


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