By Rhonda Apple, Pentagram Staff WriterJune 28, 2013
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - The Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Community Center was overflowing with excited kids and parents attending the Blue Star Families Books on Bases event with support from the Walt Disney Company June 22.
Blue Star Families is an organization which supports, connects and empowers military families, according to its website. The Books on Bases project is about helping military children through the power of reading, and assisting them in continuing to grow and learn through deployments, temporary Family separations, PCS moves and other unique hurdles they may face.
Disney's support of Books on Bases is part of the company's long history of respect and appreciation for the Armed Forces. Disney will donate 30,000 books to the program throughout 2013 for children of active and veteran service members.
JBM-HH Commander Col. Fern O. Sumpter and Command Sgt. Maj. Earlene Y. Lavender attended with about 250 military Families from across the region.
"We are delighted and honored to be here at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. It's an honor for us to be here at one of the most storied posts in America ... This is one of the oldest programs that Blue Star Families has," said Blue Star Families Executive Director Mark Smith. "Over the years we've given out more than 100,000 books through this program to schools, installations, libraries and children. We're very proud of that."
"Our Families really deserve events like this, and this not only acknowledges what your organization does for our Families, but [also] the dedication Disney has to our Families," Sumpter said to the Blue Star Families staff and volunteers and Disney VoluntEARS and executive staff.
"As we continually strive to better serve our military personnel and their families, this event is a natural extension of that mission ... especially when it comes to empowering our children through reading. There is no greater gift than expanding our children's imaginations and promoting the learning process through books and reading," said Sumpter.
Sumpter and Director of Disney Community Affairs for Europe, Middle East and Africa Tammy McFeggan, co-read "Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem" by Mac Barnett to the children.
Following the book reading, excitement filled the air. Applause and laughter erupted when Mickey Mouse himself walked into the community center ballroom to the surprise of children.
A few children rushed over to hug the famous mouse as Mickey made his way through the crowd in preparation for a meet-and-greet with guests.
Children, assisted by their parents, selected five hard-cover, age-appropriate books at the event. They also received a special book bag with goodies including a DVD movie, puzzle and photo frame.
"This is actually the first [Blue Star Family] event we've attended due to where we've been assigned. I'm visiting my mom in Alexandria, Va., and my good friend [Blue Star Families Operation Appreciation Manager] Megan Wieten-Scott told me about it," said Blue Star Family member Hilary Parry, wife of Army Capt. Edward Parry, with the 3d Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga., who attended with their 21-month-old son, Eddie.
"This is a great event and Blue Star Families is a wonderful organization. This is a great way to help lift the spirits of children of deployed parents. My son was 13-months-old when his dad deployed to Afghanistan. It's fun to come to events like this and have things to do while my husband is deployed," she said.
Eight-year-old Korben Sanchez, son of Sgt. Paul Sanchez of The Old Guard and Angela Sanchez, stood at the end of the book tables, oblivious to his surroundings as he intently studied illustrations in a books he selected.
Angela said this was their first Books on Bases event. "Korben loves books and we knew anything associated with Disney is going to be fun," said Angela. "He was very excited to see Mickey Mouse here."
Books on Bases Program Manager Janet McIntosh said she works with about 40 chapter directors across the nation, as well as overseas chapters in Germany and Japan, from her base in Atlanta, Ga., where she and her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Dan McIntosh, an Army recruiter, are assigned.
"I make sure the chapter directors get their books and supplies. I also train them on how to host Books on Bases events to make sure they're successful and search out base volunteers in areas that have no chapter director," she said. "The partnership with Disney has been fabulous. They helped us open our program to a larger audience. We normally were servicing kids from birth to age 11, and this year we were also able to service middle school-aged kids. It's great that we've been able to reach a higher age group."
Blue Star Families Public Relations Manager AnnaMaria White is based in Los Angeles while her Marine Corps husband is on an unaccompanied tour in Okinawa, Japan. She said she met parents at the JBM-HH event who had several children. "They were appreciative of this event, some parents with several children pointed out the cost of buying books for their children can really add up.
"Going into the military community, meeting people where they are [stationed] and giving free books to kids at a summer event provides a fun way for military kids to interact and continue to be engaged in reading at no cost to families," she said.
"I like to read a lot and we got free books to choose from different age groups," said Madelyn Dickinson, 10, daughter of Maj. Terry Dickinson of the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, and Sonja Dickinson. Madelyn attended with her parents and three younger sisters.
"It was great for the girls to receive free books and participate in the [craft] activities. It was also fun to have the [joint base] commander and the other volunteer read to the kids," said Sonja.
For more information on Blue Star Families and the Books on Bases program go to www.bluestarfam.org.