Show of gratitude: Teen spreads message of love to first responders

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, January 2, 2019

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When she was just 12 years old, Rylee Maggret of Sunset started Gratitude Bags – a community service project to help Wise County’s first responders and show support for their service.

RYLEE MAGGRET. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Four years later, the effort has blossomed into a countywide project, serving all local first responders and calling upon volunteers from various clubs, companies and families. For founding and continuing to lead a community service project of this magnitude, Maggret is the 2018 Youth of the Year.

The Gratitude Bags contain snacks, water and a prayer card. A stack of handwritten thank you notes, many of which are made by children at Wise County’s annual 4-H Explosion, are also delivered with the bags. Maggret, who is now 16, has relatives who are first responders, so their service inspired her to reach out to that community.

“I realized they don’t get thanked for all they do,” she said. “I wanted to change that. I wanted to do something about that.”

Maggret started brainstorming community service ideas as a member of American Heritage Girls and her quest to earn the Stars and Stripes Award, similar to the Eagle Scout designation. Although the local chapter dissolved before Maggret completed all the requirements for the Stars and Stripes, she has continued her community service project, growing it each year.

Maggret created 250 Gratitude Bags and distributed them to every police and fire department in Wise County in her first year. The next year she added Emergency Medical Services, and in the third year, the Sheriff’s Office. She was able to deliver bags to all of those entities again in 2018 – 450 bags in all.

The work starts in September to ensure delivery the week before or week of Thanksgiving. Items are collected by local 4-H clubs, as well as the homeschool co-op in which Maggret participates. Most of the thank you notes are written during Wise County’s 4-H Explosion in October. The special event introduces families to all that 4-H has to offer and one of the activity stations is writing notes for the Gratitude Bags.

“With some of them, the best they can do is draw a fire truck, and some can’t spell. But it’s super cute,” Maggret said. “Some can write really good thank you notes, but it’s that personalized touch.”

Maggret said she doesn’t have enough thank you notes for each first responder, but she sends a stack of notes with every delivery to be shared within the station.

Through the years, she has also sought the support of local businesses and has received aid from iOffice, Mallory Orthodontics and Walmart.

Marianne Henderson, owner of iOffice, said when she heard Maggret’s presentation, she thought it was a great project and was glad to help.

“I didn’t know her at all, but she came in and presented this herself,” Henderson said. “Not many people come in at her age and explain what they’re doing, humbly asking if we want to be involved. She presented herself very well. I thought it was awesome.”

Through the years, Maggret has modified the delivery method. She started by packaging everything in brown paper bags but discovered they ripped easily. She then moved to Ziploc bags, but now for some departments, simply delivers the cases of water and snacks so officers and firefighters can grab them on their way out the door. Local families and 4-H groups help make the deliveries.

Maggret said at first the effort “seemed so small” but first responders told her they really enjoy these types of packages.

“They said it really helps,” Maggret said, “especially with the personalized thank you notes and prayers over them. It really helps.”

Sheriff Lane Akin said Maggret is a “great kid” and has proven to be a bright spot in the midst of dealing with dark situations.

“You can get lulled into a sense of the doldrums because of the difficulties we deal with on a daily basis … and then she comes along. She lifts our spirits and gives us purpose,” he said. “She’s an amazing gal and probably every parent’s dream.

“We appreciate her, and it gives us reason to go out and do the job we do because there are citizens like that who appreciate what it is we do in law enforcement.”

Maggret said it simply makes her happy to help people, and she’s excited to see how the project has grown and the number of people it now affects. In fact, Maggret is currently training two younger 4-Hers to take the program over after she graduates in 2020.

“This year all three of us will run it together, so they can see the organizational side of it,” she said.

In addition to being a leader in Wise County 4-H, Maggret is also an ambassador for There{4} Teen Gathering, a conference designed to inspire high school girls in their Christian walk, and she competes in track and cross country with Victory Christian Academy. She’s a certified veterinary assistant and hopes to attend Oklahoma State University and pursue a degree in veterinary medicine.

“It’s definitely been a journey,” she said, “and I appreciate everyone who’s come alongside me and all the opportunities I’ve been given.”

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