Volunteers make a difference in community projects
October 31, 2011
PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. - World War II veteran Emanuel "Manny" Avila was still a teenager when he was inducted into the Army in 1944 and sent to train in Monterey.
And, like many service members who joined during this last decade, not long after Avila's training, he was sent into battle.
During World War II, Avila saw action in Europe. Then, after the war, he settled in Pacific Grove, where his family had recently moved to from Modesto, Calif. He joined the Army Reserve and re-enrolled in school, graduating from Pacific Grove High School in 1947.
He has been living in his current Seaside residence since 1980.
On Oct. 22 volunteers from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center and Presidio of Monterey had the opportunity to lend a hand to Avila and the local community by participating in service projects as part of the nationwide Make A Difference Day.
Held annually on the fourth Saturday of October, Make A Difference Day was created by USA Weekend magazine in 1992. Today, it is the largest day of community service in the nation, with an estimated three million people participating.
Presidio of Monterey Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Director Robert Emanuel was out among the volunteers getting his own hands dirty. He explained some of the motivation for involving service members in Make A Difference Day.
"It's about building relationships with the community. It lets the people of the community know we're here," Emanuel said. "When the people of the neighborhood come together with [Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center] students and other military members it is just natural that it will establish a better relationship and mutual appreciation for what they bring to the community."
This year's projects involved 81 military volunteers and projects at Marshall Elementary School on Ord Military Community, as well as Beta Park and Avila's house, both located in Seaside.
Spc. Jacob Summers from Company A, 229th Military Intelligence Battalion, was one of 36 military volunteers who spent Make A Difference Day working at Avila's house.
"We picked up wood from the yard and are organizing the space to help improve his quality of life and solve some fire-hazard issues," Summers said. "One of the reasons I joined the Army is because of the World War II generation that stood up and did what they had to do at the time. Nowadays, there are less and less of them left, so I think it is very cool to not only get a chance to talk to somebody like Manny, but also give back to them."
A couple of blocks away from Avila's house, Airmen 1st Class Nicholas Beeson from the Air Force's 517th Training Group was at Beta Park where another group of military volunteers spent the unusually hot day weeding, planting and laying mulch in a beautification project.
"It looks a lot nicer now, so hopefully more neighborhood kids will play here and families will feel better about using the park," Beeson said. "I think what we are doing here means a lot to the community. There is not much difference between those of us in the military and the people of the communities we live in; we all just merge into one community."
Another Beta Park volunteer, Pvt. Wouter van Beek, 229th Military Intelligence Battalion, explained his motivation for using his Saturday to participate in Make A Difference Day.
"One of the Core Army Values is selfless service," explained van Beek. "You don't really get to do that too much as a student at the [DLIFLC] because we are studying all day. So it is good to get out and accomplish something along those lines. It's a part of what the Army is about; it's about giving back."
The effort put forth by the military volunteers in Seaside did not go unnoticed by the neighborhood's residents. Lacy Kirkland, who lives close by to Beta Park, came out to witness the park's transformation and ended up lending a helping hand.
He said he was thankful to the city and DLIFLC for what they did for her community, adding that she was "so impressed with the volunteers and the way they worked together. They did an outstanding job and I would be proud to serve with any one of them."