KENNEWICK — Cortney Williams sprayed down a marble headstone, and the soapy water mixture ran brown with dirt.
“Not that many high schoolers get to pay respects to veterans that often,” said the teen as she used a toothbrush to scrub clean the name on the marker.
“I thought it was a great idea to get high schoolers together and honor those that served our country,” she said.
She was one of more than a dozen Finley students who came to Kennewick’s Riverview Heights Cemetery on Saturday to clean veterans grave markers.
The members of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) came with buckets, bottles of water, soap and brushes with the aim to clean 50 headstones.
Many of the markers cleaned by the River View High students were for World War I and World War II veterans buried decades ago.
While the cemetery is in good condition, their efforts brightened the graves.
The inspiration for their project came from a Florida man, Andrew Lumish.
During his trips to local graveyards to snap photos he became bothered by the dirt, mold and mildew built up on some of the soldiers’ gravestones.
He began using his free time to clean the markers and became known as The Good Cemeterian.
His wife has since joined him, and they travel up and down the East Coast restoring and cleaning old grave markers.
Lumish’s story inspired a group of FCCLA students in Virginia to take up a similar project. And they presented a story about their efforts at a national conference last summer.
As soon as Jennifer Ward, a River View High School teacher and club adviser, heard about it, she was sending a text message to Williams.
“I messaged her, and said, ‘We have to do this project,’” Ward said. “They said how rewarding it was and they got their whole school involved.”
With Veterans Day coming in a few weeks, the school is planning its annual assembly and the club plans to promote the project.
Saturday’s trip was their second this year. They started with five people and cleaned 10 markers. This time they expected to clean 50.
“I thought we could start with one or two kids and we can continue, and we can do it all year long.” Ward said. “We have a much bigger turnout than I expected.”
Williams hopes their example will inspire students from across the region to join them. And if they finish at Riverview Heights, she wants to move on to other cemeteries.
For more information on the project or how to join the effort, contact River View FCCLA through its Facebook page.
“We hope to grow every single time we come here and get more people to come, and just spread the word throughout our school,” Williams said. When they finish with the headstones at Riverview Heights, she hopes to move to other cemeteries.