HAMPTON, Virginia -- Twenty-six Joint Base Langley-Eustis Soldiers from the 688th Rapid Port Opening Element, 833rd Transportation Battalion, 597th Transportation Brigade, joined nearly 300 civilian volunteers in braving the early morning chill and threat of rain showers Oct. 10, to participate in Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg's Hampton Home Repair Blitz.
The Home Repair Blitz is in its fourth year and takes place once during the spring and fall and provides one-day quick fix home repairs to qualified low-income families.
Before teams fanned out across the city to begin their assigned work under the supervision of Habitat team leaders, Hampton Mayor George E. Wallace thanked the volunteers and later spoke of his appreciation for the support provided by our men and women in uniform.
"The volunteer work of our military members, along with the rest of the volunteers, add to the appearance, value and worth of the community. But more importantly are the improvements made to the homes of the recipients. These are people who are old, infirmed or otherwise unable to afford the kinds of repairs taking place today," Mayor Wallace said. "So with their help we are able to accomplish a great amount of work in a relatively short amount of time."
First Lt. Craig Champlin, 688th RPOE Operations Officer, has been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg for the past year and thought that the Home Repair Blitz would be a great community engagement opportunity. He also thought it would give his troops the chance to put their Army core value of selfless service into practice.
"Over half of my unit is here today. Of everyone who was available, almost everyone signed up," Champlin said. "Considering this was a four-day weekend, I was kind of shocked. I was expecting maybe 5 or 6 Soldiers to come out and was surprised when 26 decided to participate."
Though the concept for Habitat for Humanity was founded in Georgia in 1942 to address the issue of poverty housing, it has operated as an international organization since 1976 and has provided assistance during natural disasters stateside and abroad.
To date, the organization has built, rehabilitated and repaired over 800,000 homes and helped an estimated 4 million people around the world. Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg started its first home project in 1986 and has since constructed and renovated more than 155 homes on the Peninsula and in the Greater Williamsburg area.
The RPOE Soldiers were divided into teams to work at three different sites under the direction of volunteer team leaders. Two teams were assigned to do cleanup and home improvements for elderly, disabled and low income homeowners. The remaining team was tasked with stripping and repainting modular classroom trailers at Hampton's Lindsay Middle School.
"Volunteering is always a good thing to do and I'm always looking for things to do in the Virginia area and around Fort Eustis. I thought this would be a good time to come out with the unit and help some people out with their houses," said first-time volunteer and Colorado Springs native, Spc. Sara Duszynski. "I feel great doing it, just helping somebody else out -- giving back. I know if I were in need I would like to know that the community was there to help me. That would be a pretty great feeling."
While some volunteers saw the Home Repair Blitz as a way of "paying it forward," RPOE Soldier, Staff Sgt. Dominique Curry found it a fitting way to say thank you.
"I saw this as an opportunity to do something for the community and take time out to show my gratitude to the people who see us on a daily basis in uniform and thank us for our service," said Curry. "It brings us together outside of work and builds esprit de corps and camaraderie and gives us an opportunity to be ourselves outside of work and outside the uniform."
Today, Curry and his team happened to be painting siding, windows, and shutters, doing yard cleanup and debris removal, and fence mending at the home of a military veteran.
When at home in the foothills of Conover, N.C., Spc. Airika Tate is usually found volunteering at the local soup kitchen with her grandmother.
"I enjoy helping others while I'm still able to do things," said Tate. "A lot of people can't do things for themselves anymore or afford certain things they need, but I've been blessed enough in my lifetime that I feel like I owe it to the community, wherever I am…to do something…no matter what it is."
The Home Repair Blitz certainly had the precision, planning and execution that would make any military planner proud.
"I focus on every construction project as a military action. You've got to plan it, you've got to get your personnel and you've got to get your supplies. And if you tackle it as a military operation you can get something accomplished," said volunteer team leader Tommy Starnes, Hampton Redevelopment and Housing Authority. "It is great working with the military. When they show up, they show up to get something done."
"We try to pick different neighborhoods to work in throughout the city," said Jonathan McBride, Housing and Neighborhood Services Manager for the City of Hampton. "We've been in some neighborhoods that have some very serious needs and [where we've actually built homes], but today's Home Repair Blitz is about helping people who just need a little bit more help."
"In the eight blitzes over the past four years, we've done over 148 homes, assisted seven schools and non-profit organizations, and had over 1,700 volunteers," McBride said. "We spend an average of $8,000-$12,000 per event with an additional $3,000-$5,000 coming from donations and discounts."
Recognizing military volunteers as being more than just a source of volunteer labor, McBride spoke of a greater benefit the partnership brings to both the service members and the community at large.
"Having the military participate is a huge help because it connects them with the community," McBride said. "For a lot of military folks it is easy for them to just go to work and go home, but this connects them to the greater community they live in, and it helps the community feel that they are connected to the military serving at home. We are unique in that we have a range of volunteers from the military, faith-based organizations and civic organizations working with our teams as well as many individuals who just want to come out and volunteer."
"Service members brings passion and dedication to the work and are usually there until the end," said McBride. "Homeowners get to see the value in our military and have a greater appreciation for the work they do day to day."
"Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg Habitat welcomes all volunteers," said Craig Meadows, construction supervisor for the Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg Affiliate. "It doesn't require a high degree of training, but rather a willingness to give of yourself - We can teach anyone to do our jobs."
NOTE: Units and Soldiers interested in volunteering with Habitat for Humanity can find details for future events on the Habitat for Humanity website at http://www.habitat.org/getinv/volunteer_programs.aspx.