Guarding Our Future

by Petty Officer David Marin

SEATTLE (D13 Public Affairs) – There are hundreds of thousands of documented cases where members of the Coast Guard have saved people who were lost and in need of help. There are also many cases that go without much notice, many members who take it upon themselves to help others when it is not expected or required of them. The Coast Guard, known for helping people in peril, has given its employees the opportunity to help the very fiber of our future. Admiral J. William Kime, the Coast Guard’s Commandant from 1991-1994 and the Commandants since, have provided their service members with a chance to volunteer and help school children in need.

The Coast Guard’s Partnership in Education (PIE) program allows its active duty and civilian employees to use an hour a week to go and volunteer at schools in their area. Since 1991, PIE has introduced students to positive role models while providing educational support through tutoring, teacher assistance and lecturing.

“No matter how you frame it up, people who join the Coast Guard want to make a difference in peoples lives,” said Capt. William Belmondo, Commanding Officer of Integrated Support Command Seattle and a volunteer with PIE. “They want to save lives and make an impact. That is why I say that occupations like teaching and nursing match very well with the kind of psyche that you get from Coast Guard members.”

Since 1992, members of Coast Guard Sector Seattle have used the opportunity granted by PIE to volunteer at Hawthorne Elementary School in Seattle. A school that has 77% of its 350 students receiving a free or reduced lunch due to their families lower economic standing.

“Hawthorne Elementary is no joke,” said Sumiko Huff, the school’s principal. “It is pretty intense to work here with kids who come with multiple challenges and significant barriers to success. To be ableto really get in there and be committed on a long term basis is challenging.”

“Often times these children do not have any family structure,” said Cmdr. Daryl Garvin, the former PIE coordinator and volunteer. “All too often they do not see or have many male role models.”

“I worked as the coordinator and a volunteer with four different teachers in between the years of 2000 and 2007,” recalled Garvin. “One of the most difficult things was when I started to help out with children who had been abused. They were all a grade behind where they should have been for their age, and were all learning in the same classroom. They weren’t slow learners, but they were categorized as special education.”

“The thing that all of these kids had in common was that they all had some kind of emotional trauma that had occurred in their lives,” Garvin added. “They may have seen a murder, been abused, molested or may have come from a household where drug use was common practice.”

“I think that the Coast Guard is a really friendly presence in this school,” said Sharleen Smith, who has been teaching at the school for the past six years. “It is really neat when they come in wearing their uniforms.”

“With some of these kids, their experience with people in uniform has not been real positive,” added Belmondo. “So it is a good thing for them to have a friendly experience with us.”

“I had one child turn to me, point and say “hey this guys in uniform and he is helping us out,'” remembered Garvin. “The child said that, because his experience with people in uniform has meant that someone in his neighborhood was doing something negative. Now he has had a great experience.”

“Supportive experiences with someone in uniform gives the kids someone to look up to,” said Smith. “I’ve seen kids who don’t know a volunteer and yet they go up to them to talk just because they are in the Coast Guard. It has been a really positive effect in the minds of these children.”

“This is about building into young kids’ lives,” said Belmondo. “For a lot of these kids the time they spend at school is the most structure in their lives. Who knows what happens when these kids go home. So we build some structure, safety and some consistency into their lives .”

“There are several volunteers that have been really committed to coming here and really committed to the children they work with,” said Smith. “I have seen progress as a result to that pledge.”

“This year I had (Lt.) Jennifer Runion and she was just terrific,” added Smith. “She was working with a couple of kids that were having a really hard time with division . So one day at home she put together a lesson plan for the two of them that included a video and the kids loved it. She has just been terrific with the kids.She will call and say ‘I am available today, do you need me?’ sometimes coming in two or three times a week.”

After adding up the time that Ms. Runion has volunteered in class, a fieldtrip to the University of Washington to encourage the kids to look forward towards what they want to do after high school, a trip to the Prichard Wetlands and the school’s annual Field Day she led the way with 79 and a half hours of volunteering this year.

“Another Coast Guard volunteer, (Petty Officer Third Class) Kuntheary Shelton, connected with a Cambodian family of a child who needed to have some dental work done,” said Huff. “If it wasn’t for ‘Theary,’ Since we don’t have a Cambodian instructional assistant or anyone who speaks Cambodian (Khmer), we would have had to go to the district, find somebody and bring them in to talk to family. Theary went with the family to the dentist to help out. It was just way above and beyond.”

“Here is a little girl who needed a great deal of dental work,” said Belmondo. “That was not something that should have interfered with her learning, and when the family is in a place where they can’t get all that done on their own it is great to have someone to walk them through it. It was just fantastic how it all came together.”

“One of the biggest group of contributors is the Naval Electronic Support Unit (NESU) spearheaded by Commander Mark LeBeau ,”said Chief Warrant Officer Edwin Martin, the current PIEcoordinator and volunteer.

Every year the school does a medical screening of every child, and for the past five years the NESU has helped test the hearing and vision of the kids in the school.

“I was just commenting to someone how overwhelming the process is,” said Chris Mochel, an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNO) with the school. “A Coastie volunteer overheard me and said, ‘We can help.'”

Mochel, the school nurse for the past 17 years, works at Hawthorne Elementary Mondays and every other Tuesday. She also works at another school.

“With the Coast Guard volunteers that assist me with the screening, we get everyone done in three mornings,” added Mochel. “It’s the end of the school year and at my other school, even working two days a week, I am just finishing the initial screenings.”

“Because of modest funding at both of the schools it is difficult to accomplish the basics.” Mochel said. “But because of the ten or more Coasties that assist me every year I get to do the really important follow ups on the children at Hawthorne.”

“So members of the NESU go to the school around January or February and you can see them with the audio devise helping the nurse out,” Belmondo said. “They don’t need any special training, the nurse just shows them what to do and the NESU crew goes to work so that the nurse could tend to other duties.”

When asked if he wanted some help to disseminate the search for volunteers beyond the NESU Cmdr. LeBeau kindly responded that it was something that the NESU liked to do.

“So that is sort of their mark on the school,” added Belmondo.

“Many families have multiple jobs and don’t have the time to volunteer during the day,” said Huff. When the students see Coast Guard volunteers walking into the school spending their time talking, working, and helping them learn and just being a role model it sends a really clear message. You guys are worth it. We can’t always ask that of our parents.”

“That’s the biggest thing for us,” added Huff. “Having people from the community come in and send these really strong message to the kids. That people care about their success, this is a possible career that is out there, these are some things that you could strive for, here are the work ethics and values that we put into our work that is also useful for you in school. All those things filter through in this partnership.

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