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    Volunteers ignite life-long passion for reading

    Volunteers ignite life-long passion for reading

    Photo By Lt.Cmdr. Jim Remington | Finished bookshelves zigzag away from Madeline Leckie Elementary School in southeast...... read more read more



    Story by Lt.Cmdr. Jim Remington 

    Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling

    WASHINGTON – Volunteers from Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) and other area bases joined the civic volunteer group City Year Washington on Oct. 25 to kick off Madeline Leckie Elementary School’s reading program “What’s On Your Shelf?” Their task was to build 200 individual bookshelves and then help each student customize his or her bookshelf to be taken home at the end of the day with paint, brushes, and stencils.

    Heavy lifting on the volunteer side was carried out by City Year Washington, D.C. City Year, an AmeriCorps program, is a national service organization which unites young adults, ages 17 to 24, from diverse racial, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds for a demanding year of full-time community service, leadership development, and civic engagement.

    City Year D.C. leaders Molly Vetter and Matt Zittle directed their team of 16 and an equal number of JBAB volunteers who were more than excited to help kids build and paint bookshelves on a cold day in October.

    “That’s what working City Year is all about,” Vetter said. “For City, you volunteer a year of service to the organization. You can come right out of high school or college and say, ‘I want to give a year of service giving back to the community.’ It’s an admirable thing. I’ve been able to watch people give a year and grow and I’ve grown myself.”

    Before any students emerged from the school to the blacktop area where they would spend part of their morning painting their own bookshelves, Zittle accurately predicted some big smiles and excitement to come.

    “Today will be a very pleasant surprise for a lot of kids at the school. I think they were under the impression that they were just going to be building stuff,” Zittle said. “They didn’t realize that they would be able to take these bookshelves home.”

    The day started early with one group of JBAB volunteers assembling small bookshelves, 200 to be exact. The shelves are the center piece of a campaign that Leckie Elementary School Principal Atasha James titled in the form of a question, “What’s On Your Shelf?”

    Initially Capital One’s philanthropic group The Heart of America Foundation READesign was seeking a partner in Washington’s Ward 8.

    James spoke with them on behalf of Leckie Elementary and said she also sought a partnership that would be productive and meaningful.

    “I told them that I want my heart and soul to be poured into reading, because without that our kids are on a rocky foundation,” James said. “And if the students walk away with nothing else from elementary school it should be a real love for reading.”

    James added that she grew up an avid reader and wants to impart some of that love on her students and community. The Heart of America told her that it would do whatever it could to help. To date, the organization has donated nearly 2,000 books to the school’s library, making Leckie’s holdings one of the largest library collections among elementary schools nationwide.

    In addition to library books, Heart of America donated funds for the materials necessary for the students’ personal bookshelves: wood boards cut to size, nails, paint, paint brushes, and more. But even with the materials, Leckie still needed one more ingredient, volunteers to make it all happen. What happened next is a testament to the importance of solid community relations.

    Dan Dunham, school liaison officer for JBAB and Naval District Washington, has maintained and strengthened the positive relationship the base has with Leckie Elementary. The subject of this potential project came up early in the summer after James heard that Capital One wanted to partner with Leckie.

    “She started to plant the seed that we’re going to need volunteers and I said ‘When you have a need you give me a call and we’ll move it though our chain of command to see if we can get some people involved,’” Dunham said.

    Through JBAB’s solicitation for volunteers on base and through outreach to other National Capital Area bases and Department of Defense (DOD) agencies to include the Marine Barracks Washington and Fort George G. Meade, JBAB managed to pull together more than fifteen volunteers to include sailors, airmen, a Marine, and several civilians.

    “I think it’s a great turnout,” Dunham said. “Believe it or not we had the exact number that we needed. If we had more people we might have had people standing around.”

    The carpentry crew comprised of Dunham, JBAB Commander Navy Capt. Anthony T. Calandra, a Marine and two airmen assembled the bookshelves so efficiently that they completed the assembly portion far ahead of schedule. That meant that as each grade made its way outside to the blacktop, each student had an assembled bookshelf to call his or her own, ready to be decorated according to his or her own creativity and vision.

    The remaining volunteers were assigned to one of five painting stations where they engaged with students, asked questions about what sort of things the students like from sports teams to characters to hobbies, and then helped develop plans on how to incorporate those subjects and themes into the styling and design of their bookshelf.

    It was through those initial discussions that the students and volunteers warmed up to one another. Dunham said that the students with their new bookshelves were not the only ones who got something out of the day: the volunteers came away with something too.

    “I think the biggest thing that they’re getting is that instant gratification of helping somebody out and getting a reward for that,” Dunham said. “Kids are saying ‘thank you.’ I heard one student saying ‘I’d like to have that uniform,’ and then the Marine said, ‘Well this is the kind of uniform you have to earn. You can’t just buy this off the shelf.’ And the kid was really excited about that.”

    For Marine Sgt. Ryan Stitzel, a native of Fleetwood, Pa., and now assigned to the Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., who has volunteered in a variety of capacities from soup kitchens to tutoring and mentoring middle and high school age kids, this experience was one of the most fun he’s had. He encouraged others who have not volunteered in the D.C. community to seize the opportunities that arise and to get to know the communities around them.

    “Considering this is an inner city area, a lot of people automatically think that a lot of these kids are troublemakers and have a really rough home life, but that’s not the case at all,” Stitzel said. “A lot of them obviously come from really good backgrounds and upbringings because you didn’t have to tell them how to act, they just did it.”

    When asked what he got out of the event, Airman 1st Class Shaquile Garcias-Phillips, of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard who hails from Virginia Beach, Va., responded excitedly, “Joy! Joy! A lot of joy!”

    Garcias-Phillips also saw the day as an opportunity to pay forward the advice he received from military members that came to his school when he was the age of these Leckie Elementary students.

    “Back then when I was in school I had military people come to my school like this, and they told us if we wanted to be in the military we had to stay out of trouble,” Garcias-Phillips said. “And their advice actually helped me out because here I am in the military and U.S. Air Force Honor Guard. So I just hope that what I told these kids today will help them out, too.”

    Navy airman Miles Franks from Los Angeles, a casket bearer and armorer with the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard, said he had nothing but great feelings at the end of the day.

    “It was fun putting a smile on their faces and changing their perspective on arts and crafts. A lot of kids came out here and they didn’t have any motivation and said, ‘I don’t know what to do,’” Franks said. “But if you just give them some ideas and interact with them it just brightens them up. I saw a lot of frowns turn into smiles. For all of us, it made us feel great.”

    For Franks this was only the beginning of what he hopes will be future volunteering opportunities in the Ward 8 community.

    “I was talking to the staff to see if there are more programs like this because it would be very good for our command to show these kids that our command and the community supports and enjoys them and that there’s a big life ahead of them,” Franks added. “I’d also like to have these kids come see the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard perform and see what the military offers them.”

    Dunham, speaking of junior service members such as Franks and Garcias-Phillips, said, “We’ve got some service members who are fresh out of boot camp and they’re learning that it’s not just about the drill all the time. This is part of the mission too: giving back to the community and being a good neighbor.”



    Date Taken: 11.01.2013
    Date Posted: 11.01.2013 16:42
    Story ID: 116131
    Location: WASHINGTON, DC, US 
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    Volunteers ignite life-long passion for reading