By USAG Redstone ReleaseJune 17, 2009
Three years ago the Garrison employees wanted to do something different for the holidays. They knew there were local charities that sponsored children but wanted to inquire if the Alabama Industries for the Blind and Deaf in Talladega might need help with their students -- the supply store on post is run by AIDB. The response was a "yes."
The first year, 2006, only two students were adopted -- just to see how it would go over. Wendy Mitchell, executive assistant to the Garrison commander, and Deborah Plunkett, executive assistant to the deputy, volunteered to spearhead this cause. A list of what the students needed was given and employees were given the opportunity to donate money or chose items off the list to purchase. Remaining items off the list were purchased with monies donated.
Mitchell said that year even after shopping for all the needed items, there was money left over. They contacted the school to see about helping another student. They were told there was a young man who was a senior who needed help with graduation expenses.
When graduation time came, money was again collected to send to this student for a gift.
For Christmas 2007, a couple of more students were added, totaling four. The Garrison asked for a couple of young ones and then asked for a few older ones, since they tend to get overlooked.
In May 2008, they once again decided to adopt a senior for graduation. It was a student they had from the previous Christmas.
This past Christmas, the number of children increased to six.
"You ought to have seen shoppers' faces at Wal-Mart seeing us pushing overloaded buggies around the store," Plunkett said. "It was even more fun trying to get everything loaded in our vehicles. The command suite was over-running with wrapping paper and gifts."
For graduation this year, senior Steffon Middleton was adopted. Steffon is 18 years old. He will be attending Gadsden State Junior College and living in a dorm. He is totally blind. Steffon won first place at the AIDB Homecoming Wrestling and qualified for the state tournament. His season record was 38-5. He has been MVP for two years at the Southern Conference Association for Schools for the Blind and was the valedictorian of his senior class.
"He has a Pell Grant and the three scholarships he received, plus cash from staff and friends at ASB (Alabama School for the Blind) to keep him afloat until his scholarships begin," Mitchell said.
The ladies had hoped to get a group of employees to take the presents down but due to time constraints it didn't happen. However, one of their employees, who had helped with supporting this, Ray Boles and his wife graciously offered to deliver the gifts to Steffon.
Mitchell and a few others have had the opportunity to tour the school and the Gentry Center where they employ adults, who are blind, to work.
"It is amazing to watch someone who cannot see sit behind a sewing machine and sew a straight stitch," Mitchell said. "It really makes you appreciate the abilities a person has to offer."
When asked if the goal was to go bigger next Christmas, Mitchell said the real goal is to possibly open this event up to other organizations at Team Redstone -- each organization adopting one child. "It would be great to share with everyone the excitement these children have," she said.
She called this a team effort for the Garrison. "We are very fortunate to have such great individuals at the Garrison," she said. "There is always a great outpouring from our employees plus a couple of silent benefactors who donate money on the side."