By Mr. Rick RzepkaDecember 22, 2014
OKINAWA CITY, Okinawa -- Santa made a special appearance at Tsukushi-En, a local special needs school, Dec. 17 to spread holiday cheer to dozens of children, but instead of his usual entourage of elves and reindeer, St. Nick was flanked by U.S. Soldiers for this special mission.
The U.S. Army Garrison -- Okinawa Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program received donations to purchase toys for 31 children whose reaction to Father Christmas ranged from delight to fright, but when the gifts came out, all were excited.
"Out of all my volunteer events that I have done while serving in the U.S. Army, I would have to say that this was the best volunteer experience ever," said Staff Sgt. Kristian A. Rubio, who serves as a Dental Specialist at Torii Station. "Being able to see the children's eyes light up and smiles glow was an incredible feeling … The children were the ones that filled my heart with Christmas Spirit," he said.
The BOSS program at U.S. Army Garrison -- Okinawa serves to enhance the quality of life and morale of single Soldiers who make up nearly 35 percent of the Army according to Human Resources Command. A core component of the BOSS program is making a difference by volunteering in community projects and events, according to www.armymwr.com.
"These events are great for BOSS soldiers because it's a great way for us to show that single soldiers care about the community and are here to make a difference," said Sgt. Matthew Jewell, a signal Soldier with 10th Regional Support Group. "No matter how small or big it is we are able to make a difference to those that need us … It's a great reminder and a great feeling."
Though they are stationed overseas, BOSS program volunteers find a way to navigate the language and cultural obstacles to get out into the community to make a difference and give back to their neighbors, said Rubio.
"When you are kind to someone, you hope that they'll remember and be kind to someone else," he said.
For the children of the Tsukushi-En special needs school, a visit from Santa and his helpers was a welcomed event.
"I hope their appreciation could reach [the] volunteer's heart," said Katsue Teruya, who works at the school. "To experience and learn different culture are very good for their emotional development. Again, we'd like to extend our sincere appreciation for Army's support," she said.