South Charlotte

Morrison Y's flag program teaches patriotism, sacrifice

A tall flagpole is evident the moment you drive into the Morrison YMCA.

But the American flag on this particular pole doesn't just represent patriotism and sacrifice.

This flag actually teaches patriotism and sacrifice.

And right below at its roots, this flag is grounded by bricks honoring those who have served, both past and present.

Each weekday at the YMCA this summer, a group of summer campers is taking a class on the flag, led by their camp counselor. The campers are taught how to respect and handle the flag. They are taught the meaning behind the symbol, and the fact that many sacrifices have been made so that we can live in a free society.

After a question and answer period, they go out to the flagpole, where the flag is already flying. The camp counselor leads them in the pledge of allegiance, and then they lower the flag, fold it with just the stars showing, and then unfold it without letting it touch the ground.

Finally, they raise the flag again for the remainder of the day.

Steve Bowers, community vice president for the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, his staff and a group of five military veterans, are the ones responsible for the installation of the flag and the program it has inspired.

Bowers wrote the flag training class, and the volunteers helped him shape it with their experiences and input. Forty-five camp counselors initially took the course, so they could teach the children this summer.

When Bowers's father, a World War II veteran, passed away, a friend donated money in his father's honor. The money was used to help install the flagpole at the Morrison YMCA in 2009.

A blue star is at the bottom of the pole, and its five points, represent the five branches of the military. Memorial bricks are all around the star. For $50, anyone can buy a brick and have it inscribed for a loved one who has served in the military. The person does not need to be deceased.

"Thousands of people come through our doors every day, and I hope it will give them something to pause and reflect about in their day-to-day routine, to think of people who have served before and who are serving now," said Bowers. "My vision is that the flag program could be a model for YMCAs across the country."

The Morrison YMCA will offer the training program once a month to the community.

Bowers also hopes that folks will reserve the memorial flagpole for special days. For instance, he would like to bring his family to raise and lower the flag on his father's birthday.

"We hear many stories," said Bowers. "A senior citizen reminisced about what it was like as a young woman to lose her husband in Vietnam. A British man came in and gave us a $100 check for two bricks, and he told us to put someone's name on them. He was grateful for what our military has done around the world."