News: Improving lives one coat at a time
Story by Sgt. William Henry
INDIANAPOLIS – A blast of bitterly cold weather rushed through Indianapolis, Dec. 6, as local children headed to Stout Field Elementary School in single digit temperatures, some with little or no protection from the frigid conditions according to school officials.
Relief was in sight later in the school day when April Bentley, a human resources employee at the Indiana National Guard’s Joint Forces Headquarters at Stout Field, arrived with approximately 100 coats to ease the circumstances of underprivileged students who attend.
Bentley said she enjoyed helping provide students the warmth and protection they need, and she also sympathized with their situations.
“Words cannot express the feeling you get seeing a child get a new coat. You can see it in their eyes that they genuinely appreciate it. No kids should be left in the cold, and it warms my heart to help,” said Bentley. “I grew up like these kids are growing up now, so I can relate. I may not make a lot of money now, but all my child’s needs and my personal needs are met, and it humbles me to help those who are in need. These kids are our future; it’s a great investment.”
Each year Indiana National Guard employees working on Stout Field raise money to donate cold weather items to Stout Field Elementary students for the “Warm Hands, Warm Hearts” program.
The school principal, Ms. Judy Stegemann, said she and her staff keep an eye out for students who come to school without adequate coats every day for this program.
“Teachers refer kids they have in class without a coat. Adults at bus duty or car rider duty refer kids without coats,” said Stegemann. “Our parent liaison, Casey Foust, gets all the referrals and works with children, families to get coats.”
“These coats are given to kids who come in without coats, have coats that don't fit properly, or don't zip or button,” said Stegemann. “The coats donated prevent kids from being cold and in the long run probably prevents illness that may cause the students to miss school.”
Indiana’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, visited with three selected students to personally greet them, present them with new coats and his personal challenge coin.
“Every year when I come down to this, all you have to do is just look in their eyes when you hand them a brand new jacket. Some of them have never had a brand new jacket. Some of them don’t even have a jacket,” said Umbarger. “There’s not a better feeling to know you’ve helped a young child so they don’t have to go out in the cold uncovered. Today, probably the coldest day of the year, it was only fitting that we were there.”
Brandon Albright, 6th grade, Zackery Albright, 5th grade, and Joshua Shepard, 5th grade, were those chosen to visit with the general. After Zackery was given his coat and a coin he told Umbarger, “I plan on being a soldier when I grow up.”
School officials and students were pleased and appreciated the program.
“We are grateful for the support of the Stout Field National Guard. Their donations are making a direct impact on our children,” said Stegemann. “We provide our students a great education, two warm meals a day, and with the Guard's help a warm coat for winter! We are truly thankful for their generosity.”
Umbarger praised the work of those involved with the program. He said it would not happen nor thrive if those who coordinated it did not have such giving personalities.
“They’re always giving their time and their talent. They’re always looking for ways to raise money. They spend their time and effort to raise the money, and they go out and buy the jackets,” said Umbarger. “They have me present them, and they don’t want to take any credit for it. Now that is a true giver. That is a person who has a wonderful open heart. True philanthropy is when you give and don’t want any credit for it, so I just think all the credit should go to them. I’m very proud of them.”
Bentley said she handles only a portion of responsibilities among seven team members who make this program work. She said the team works together to host annual events and collect donations to support the program.
“With the money we earn we look out for deals on coats and purchase them. We often check with the school as to what their needs are so that we can fill those specific needs. Then I arrange for the drop off,” said Bentley. “The kids love to see the general, it makes the moment when they receive their coats that much more special.”
“I can’t say enough about the importance of this program,” explained Stegemann. “These coats not only keep these kids warm, but they also prevent illness, which in turn helps attendance. They also make the kids happy. The kids are allowed to choose a coat they like. Our kids don't get many new things. Picking out a new coat is a big deal. It’s like getting a new pair of shoes and feeling like you can run faster and jump higher. They just love these coats.”
Bentley said if anyone would like to participate in the program they can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.