After battling post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury, retired U.S. Navy Petty Officer Ryan Shannon can now settle down with his family in a new home, provided in part by dedicated seniors from Mepham High School.
Through their service-learning project, the seniors helped raise $20,000 for the nonprofit organization Building Homes for Heroes, which gives mortgage-free homes to veterans. Shannon, who was presented with a home in Illinois, visited the school on Dec. 19 to say thank you.
“You guys are like family to me now,” Shannon said. “I mean, you got me a house. I don’t know how I could pay that back.”
The money was raised through several efforts, one of the largest being Mepham’s Battle of the Classes in November, which brought in more than $5,000. Students also created several GoFundMe pages, said Sydney Mason, a senior. Mason’s page helped raise an additional $1,000.
Speaking to Mepham’s Senior Experience class, Shannon talked about the traumatic events that shaped his military career. He was among the front-line responders after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami devastated Northeastern Japan. The fires that resulted trapped and killed many.
“I didn’t know those people, but I still see their faces in the fires every night,” he said.
Shannon suffered physical injuries as well. During one surprise emergency drill, a hit to the back of his head resulted in a traumatic brain injury. In combat in Afghanistan, his troop was ambushed and a ricocheting bullet hit his left leg. Although the injuries were severe, he was able to recover with full mobility.
Shannon put his healed leg to the test in 2017, he told the class. At the Invictus Games, a competition for injured veterans established by Britain’s Prince Harry, Shannon won the silver medal in the men’s 400-meter dash. Prince Harry himself presented him with the medal, Shannon said.
He also received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his work supervising and training other petty officers.
Shannon was welcomed to Mepham with a flurry of celebrations. The front lawn of the school was covered in its Flag Field of Honor, and the main entrance was decorated with arches of red, white and blue balloons. MephAcapella, led by music teacher Christina Dimitriou, treated Shannon to an a cappella performance.
He was also given Mepham merchandise, including gift baskets, clothing and a Pirates flag.
“The kids embraced this project from the beginning, and were so excited to meet Ryan,” social studies teacher Kerry Dennis said.
“Today’s experience was so compelling because not only did the students get to ‘put a face with the name’ for their senior service learning project, they were able to understand the impact they have made on Ryan’s life, and to hear his captivating story firsthand,” said Robyn Einbinder, the district’s social studies chair. “His message really resonated with the seniors.”
Closing out the visit, Principal Eric Gomez led the students in a cheer: “Seniors, what do we say? ‘Once a Pirate, always a Pirate!’”
Shannon moved into his mortgage-free home in Illinois in late November with his wife, Jasmine, and his two sons, ages 6 and 4.