REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- For the AMCOM Safety Office, the spirit of the Combined Federal Campaign didn't end Dec. 11. It's a work in progress.

"We hear a lot about it, and then CFC ends," said Pat Vittitow, chief of the Safety Office. "They need help far more than just a couple of months during the CFC campaign."

This year Vittitow and her staff decided to make the CFC a yearlong outreach, adopting the Toney-Harvest Head Start Center, a service of Community Action Partnership. The center provides education, health, nutrition and other social services to 35 three-to-five-year-olds from low-income families in a double-wide trailer on Wall Triana Highway. Despite their good work, the center has not been exempt from painful budget cuts, which AMCOM Safety is determined to help ease.

"How much more can you cut'" Vittitow said. "They really need some help here. What that center could do with the price of one missile."

This fall, members of the office grabbed their toolboxes and set out to make a difference at the center, one washed window at a time. Their to-do list ran the gamut from washing windows and walls, repairing toilets and sinks, to replacing floor tiles. Some 18 volunteers from the AMCOM Safety Office, including wives and friends, transformed themselves into carpenters, plumbers and electricians, spending 10 hours of their Saturday making sure the school was clean and polished, and of course, safe. In addition to the staff's own donations, Jimmy's Green House in East Limestone and the Huntsville Botanical Gardens also donated goods to help beautify the school.

"The greatest part of the experience was how much of a difference we made in just a day," said Jeff Smith, a retired explosive ordnance disposal technician. "You start out with the goal to give back to the community, and the whole experience ends up giving back to you."

The office's outreach brought Toney-Harvest Head Start director Carolyn Townsend to tears.

"I don't have the words, thank you is not enough," Townsend said. "Just knowing that the community of Redstone cared enough to render the services that they rendered. There were things that needed to be done to beautify the place to help us get away from the stigma of us being a Head Start facility. Even though we service the economically deprived, we don't look economically deprived."

Townsend's tears and the children's smiles when they saw their new and improved school was enough thank you for Vittitow's volunteers.

"The reactions of the Head Start coordinator and the children are better than any form of thank you or recognition," Smith said. "I can still picture the woman at Head Start in tears as we charged through her wish list with a vengeance, and I can still feel the genuine hug she gave us all as we left that evening."

Nationally, Head Start has enrolled more then 25 million students since it began in 1965, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In fiscal year 2007, some 16,734 students were enrolled in a Head Start school in Alabama.

"These children are our future, and it is our job as Americans to make sure they have a good environment to learn and grow," said Glenanne Johnson, a safety engineer who helped coordinate and plant gardens around the school's storm shelter. "The only way that our country will grow and continue to prosper is by providing education to everyone, regardless of their income level or social status. Knowledge passed along is something that no one can ever take away from you - it will guide your life and your family forever. Programs like Head Start take the time to teach underprivileged children, keep our country strong and pave the way for our future."

The Safety Office's work didn't end with their fall cleaning day. The staff continues to dialogue with the center on a regular basis, collecting basic everyday items they may need, such as notebooks, markers or crayons. Vittitow and Soldiers regularly visit the school to read to the children. This spring, the office plans to make a second visit to finish up any repairs and beautification they were unable to complete in the fall.

"It's almost like paying it forward," Vittitow said. "You never know what it's going to start. They always had enough to do the minimum, but that's all they had. It's just amazing."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16