Fort Shafter --The dog days of summer had wound down and children that live on and near the installation made their way back to Major General William R. Shafter Elementary School, here, on August 5, the first day of school. The overgrown campus that greeted students and parents was surprising.
Seeing how Hawaii's extended growing season and minimal custodial staffing at the school had allowed weeds to dwarf many of the students, one parent's surprise became resolve. Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 516th Signal Brigade Commander Cpt. Christopher Stacy decided to partner with the school and bring volunteers from his unit to help tame the wild weeds and give the campus, including a popular area called The Turtle Path back to the students.
"When I saw that the children had to maneuver through waist-high weeds just to raise the colors on the first day of school, I knew that I needed to take action," Stacy said. "My son, Christian, is in his third year here and has experienced nothing less than a positive and caring learning environment. It would be selfish of me to not give back knowing the difficulties that the school faces."
When Stacy took his idea to the top school administrator, Principal Alison Higa explained that budget cuts and sickness within the custodian ranks accounted for the situation, and gladly accepted his assistance. Faced with budget constraints similar to the military's, the school has also lost personnel, resulting in difficulty maintaining the grounds.
"We employ one full time and two half time custodians, one of which is currently on medical leave," Higa said.
During the first week of school, four Soldiers spent their free time before and after work cutting the grass and weeds around the school grounds. Eleven more showed up before duty on Sept. 6 to pick up trash and cut more grass.
Although not a parent, Intelligence Analyst Pfc. Randy Russell jumped at the chance to help out.
"I volunteered as soon as I was made aware of the opportunity," Russell said. "It felt great. Giving back to the community is always a positive feeling."
Intelligence Analyst Spc. Brittany Jones agreed, calling the deed, "exhilarating."
"My company --myself included-- value the youth of Fort Shafter and take pride to call this place home," she said.
Her two-year-old son is part of her reason she will continue to volunteer at the school.
"My son may attend Fort Shafter Elementary," she said. "I will continue to assist, so that while he's there he can share this pride of where he and his friends get an education."
Information Technology Specialist Private 2nd Class Kalynn Mims isn't a parent, but found the endeavor enjoyable.
"Helping with cleaning the campus was actually really fun and it made me feel really good inside," she said. "I love helping people, period; but to know that my help is making a better environment for children to learn, explore and grow makes me feel even
Higa shared that the manicured grounds were well received, and thanked Stacy.
"We are so appreciative of your gracious offer to assist our custodian," she said.
Stacy also plans area beautification, like providing school flower beds with much-needed TLC, and may take their efforts indoors.
"Edging, painting, and policing are just a few tasks that we will look into, in the coming weeks," he said, adding, "The school also has a computer lab that was in rough shape last year so we will see if we can assist in that area too."
Students are, once again, enjoying their school grounds.
"My son crossed the Turtle Path, daily, on his way to kindergarten, "Stacy said. "And now it is back in commission for all to enjoy."