Soldiers volunteer for back-to-school cause
August 16, 2010
FORT BELVOIR, Va. - Soldiers from Fort Belvoir teamed up with members of the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce Saturday by offering free, back-to-school physicals, as well as a little cheer, to area children heading to the classroom this fall.
As part of its Educational Foundation, chamber member and retired Fairfax County Public Schools social worker Bonnie Lilley said the initiative is entering its eighth year with resounding success. Previously, she said the occasion has brought between 150-200 children of uninsured families to the South County Government Center for free examinations and immunizations.
This year, Lilley and other members confirmed nearly 300 children attended the Saturday morning physicals, which included screenings for blood pressure, lead testing and standard vision and hearing exams. As an added bonus, at the end of their visit, Lilly said each child received a backpack filled with school supplies, and a bicycle helmet.
"We're doing this because there are families that make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford their own health insurance," Lilley said. "Volunteers come from all over Fairfax County and Belvoir has been great in providing Spanish-speaking interpreters. It's a true community effort that has brought a lot of people together for a good cause."
One of those attending was Staff Sgt. Rafael Arroyo, who works as a career counselor with the Military District of Washington. He heard about the chamber's efforts through meetings at Belvoir and thought nothing of it to sign up as a volunteer.
"I have two children of my own that attend school in the Mount Vernon District. I know how important school physicals are," Arroyo said. "This is a great thing for the community and a perfect chance for me to introduce myself and network with other people."
The same can be said for John "Dea" Barfield, president of the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club. Barfield was one of nearly 30 bikers throughout the course of the morning that walked and talked with kids as they went from one health station to another.
"It's an honor for us to come out and support this effort. Anything we can do to help these kids and their families is alright by us," Barfield said. "This is our second time doing this. It's a wonderful way to give back to the community and we hope to do it again next year."
And then, there was Installation Commander Col. John Strycula, who was one of the very first volunteers to arrive Saturday. Accompanied by his wife, Wendy, and their five children, the Strycula family helped children from station to station and were impressed with the total number of volunteers donating their time to the cause.
Strycula, along with Installation Command Sgt. Maj. Gabriel Berhane, also offered some encouraging words to a group of Advanced Individual Training Soldiers from Belvoir who decided to stop by and lend a hand.
"You'll find that what you're doing today is a very rewarding experience. It means a lot to these kids and their families to have you here," Strycula told the group. "Talk to the kids, bond with them and have fun."