HARWICH — They arrived rusty, dirty, and tired, but thanks to the efforts of a group of students, a fleet of buffed-up bicycles will soon roll off the campus at Cape Cod Regional Technical High School. Repaired and revived, the bikes are destined for homes with Habitat for Humanity families as part of a community service project for the SkillsUSA program at the school.
You may not know her by name, but Lilli Osowski is one of Provincetown’s busiest residents.
A senior studying health technology at Cape Cod Regional Technical High School, she works three jobs — at Cape Tip Seafoods, Sidekicks Travel toy store, and Advinia Care (the long-term care facility at Seashore Point). And, this year, she took on even more responsibility by organizing her classmates to help veterans all across the Cape.
Cape Cod Tech offers 15 specialized programs called “shops”; Lilli persuaded each one to help. Horticulture students aided a 92-year-old World War II veteran by mowing his lawn, raking his leaves, and cleaning his gutters. Carpentry students made a metal display case for one vet, and plumbing students replaced another’s faucet.
On one day, three different shops used their skills to help six female veterans. The women dropped off their cars to be detailed in the auto shop, and meanwhile had a spa day, courtesy of the school’s cosmetology students. Then they headed over to the culinary department for a free lunch.
“They had a whole day,” says Lynn Fleischer, Lilli’s social studies teacher. “It was awesome.”
Back in the fall, Fleischer, who lives in Eastham, noticed Lilli’s enthusiasm for helping veterans when all the students were writing thank-you cards for Veterans Day. Lilli’s cards were extra heartfelt, and one day she approached her teacher to offer help in addressing the 275 letters that students had written. Fleischer suggested that Lilli organize a larger project and participate in a community service competition sponsored by SkillsUSA, an organization that promotes leadership for students in career and technical education programs.
In addition to coordinating all 15 shops at the Tech in service projects for veterans, Lilli was planning to present a memorial placard, made by the school’s engineering shop, to local veterans. The presentation would have been part of the Cape Cod Veterans Center’s annual Welcome Home Ceremony on March 29, dedicated to Vietnam vets.
That gathering in Bourne was going to be the “cherry on top” of Lilli’s project, says Fleischer. Now it is on hold, as the event was postponed by the coronavirus, which also halted progress on the placard, since students had to switch to online learning. The national SkillsUSA convention, where Lilli was going to present her “ALL In for Our Vets” project, has also been cancelled.
But the pandemic can’t stop Lilli. Last Saturday, she helped her uncle, Thomas Osowski, commander of the local VFW, put flags next to the graves of every veteran buried in Provincetown — over 600 of them.
Lilli has several veterans in her family, and she cites this as one reason for her interest in veteran aid. She also says that working at a nursing home, which she’s been doing since August as part of her school’s cooperative learning program, has taught her that veterans can feel neglected and voiceless.
She says that one wheelchair-bound World War II veteran whom she cares for at Seashore Point once told her the story of losing his leg because of a gunshot wound. “He’s one of the quieter ones,” she says, but he opened up to her. “He tells me stories that he doesn’t tell anyone else. I’m his voice.
“Veterans don’t get enough acknowledgement,” she says. “It hurts to see.”
Lilli will be starting at the University of New Hampshire in the fall, as a health sciences major. She is not sure she’ll make a career out of helping veterans. What matters to her is helping people, whoever they might be. “I just want to make a difference in people’s lives,” she says.
Lynn Fleischer echoes the same sentiment. “Helping and honoring people is her passion,” she says. “What a kid.”