PETAL, Miss. -- Soldiers from the 177th Armored Brigade, First Army Division East, volunteered their time at C. H. Johnson Head Start Center here Oct. 26.

As part of the center's celebration of national Head Start Awareness Month, administrators reached out to various service organizations, including the local police and fire services, to visit for an "appreciation day."

"One of our main components is community involvement," said Sherrone McDonald, director of Early Head Start in Mississippi. "We want to expose our children to people in the community who have strong values."

The center asked Staff Sgt. Montrice Brooks, a mortarman assigned to 1st Battalion, 305th Infantry Regiment, 177th Armored Brigade, and Staff Sgt. Thomas Foster, the brigade's information technology specialist, if they would like to represent the U.S. Army.

Both Soldiers jumped at the chance.

"Petal has really embraced me and my family," said Brooks, who also serves as president of the center's Parent Teacher Organization. "Volunteering is always a great way to give back to the community."

Brooks and Thomas, who both have daughters who are students at the center, were asked to spend the morning reading. "Literacy is vital at this age, and it's a strong focus for Petal," said Patricia Mitchell-Coleman, center administrator. "If you don't get that foundation, it's hard to make it, and it's important for these kids that their foundation starts now."

Mitchell-Coleman said the center's appreciation day, which also included volunteers from the Petal police and fire stations, was a way to show the students there is a variety of interesting people in the community and to reinforce to the kids that they can be anything they want, with a great education.

"Our kids are important to all of us," Foster said. "If we can help project a positive lifestyle, hopefully they'll take something from it."