South Aiken Serteen Club members got a big surprise Thursday night at their induction ceremony when one of their speakers was a soldier who was part of a unit the students supported while it was deployed to Afghanistan.


Sgt. 1st Class Stephan Kraus, stationed at Fort Gordon, came home over the summer after a tour in the Middle East. The Serteen Club, which stems from Sertoma and gets children or teens involved in community service, sent care packages and notes of encouragement to the soldiers during their deployment.


“It was real nice,” Kraus said. “It puts a smile on our faces when getting anything while over there.”


Kraus said it's especially wonderful for those who haven't been deployed before to get something from home. He said that mail call is great and they appreciate letters or cards but it's awesome when boxes come in.


The Serteen adviser for the Aiken High School Chapter, Valorie Vance, actually went to high school with Kraus in Michigan. They reconnected on Facebook, and Vance found out he was deployed.


She knew the soldiers were living in tents and sleeping on tiny cots, which made her wonder how she could help make their deployment a little bit more comfortable. She asked the Serteen members if they would be interested, and they were eager to offer their support.


The care packages included simple things like snacks, tooth brushes and other items that are very accessible here at home but not so much to those serving in Afghanistan. They even sent a not-so-attractive, gaudy holiday sweater to Kraus as a joke, and he sent them a picture back of him wearing it Christmas night.


During the ceremony Thursday, Kraus presented a shadow box containing an American flag that flew in Afghanistan.


South Aiken Serteen President Alex Ward was thrilled by the surprise.


“It's amazing to meet him after sending them all of that stuff,” Ward said. “I didn't know he was going to be here.”


Vance said she was very proud of the students in all they do, including their support of Kraus' unit.


“These are amazing young men and women,” Vance said. “These Serteens are amazing. They make my day – every day.”


The Kennedy Middle School Serteen Club also pitched in.


Dana Foster, the adviser of the Kennedy Middle School's club, said they helped raise money for the care packages with coin drives, candy jars and a creative collection of asking for the remaining quarter of a dollar spent at the 75 cent snack machines on Fridays. Together, they raised $696.


Some of the kids from the middle school club were at the ceremony, as well, including Nya Rodriguez, who thought it was cool to see someone that was impacted by their good actions.


“It was like, all of our hard work finally paid off,” Rodriguez said.


Kraus was happy to attend and meet the people who helped uplift the soldiers and himself during deployment.


“Keep up the good work,” Kraus said to the Serteens. “It's amazing when kids this age are willing to give up their time for wonderful causes. Only good things can come from that.”