CAMP ZAMA, Japan (June 25, 2021) – In early 2020, U.S. Army Garrison Japan officials wrestled with the same issue that community leaders faced worldwide—providing a sense of normalcy in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools were closed and Garrison youth were challenged to complete online learning. Travel was restricted, face masks became everyday wear, employees started working from home, and “virtual” became a part of the community lexicon.
The Garrison Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation experienced significant program closures and an extreme limitation of services. They also sensed a sharp drop in overall community morale.
It was an unsettling, even frightening, time for many. And it was uncharted territory.
Faced with these challenges, DFMWR Director Rick Bosch decided to go on the offensive. Instead of holding tight and waiting to see what would happen, he encouraged his employees to come up with a new way to do business. They suggested forming a “Community Immunity Team,” comprised of MWR employees who would brainstorm a road map through the “new norm.”
And Bosch knew just the person to run it. He appointed Lucinda Ward as the team leader.
Ward, who at the time served as the Child and Youth Services school liaison officer, was the perfect choice, Bosch said.
“I knew that Lucinda had the drive, energy and creativity to lead this team,” Bosch said. “She was without a doubt the perfect person for the job.”
Under Ward’s leadership, the Community Immunity Team launched a series of innovative programs that stood up to the rigors of the strict COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
The end result was more than 100 classes, seminars, activities and other events created by a cross-functional team under Ward’s dynamic leadership.
To help honor that work, DFMWR nominated her for the prestigious Child and Youth Services Award of Excellence.
Ward said she was incredibly honored and humbled to be presented the award earlier this year.
She said she didn’t believe it when she learned she was selected for the recognition. She was sure there were others more deserving—that she was simply doing her job.
“So many emotions ran strong through my veins,” she said. “After a couple of days, I accepted it and was extremely grateful and felt a sense of accomplishment take over my total being.”
Looking back now, Ward calls her time with the Community Immunity Team one of the most fulfilling experiences of her life.
“Because this team was strategically put in place to operate during the toughest of COVID times, the incredible members of the team came together to bring out-of-the-box programming to the community under strict COVID guidelines,” she said. “This led to forming bonding relationships among the team members and allowed me to see that anything is possible when you have the right people coming together to complete the mission.”
Ward, who now serves as the relocation readiness program manager and volunteer coordination manager for Army Community Service, said supporting a military community is her passion, something she learned from her parents at an early age.
She grew up in a large family, the 10th of 12 children. Her father, a retired service member, settled his family in El Paso, Texas, and raised his children with a sense of community volunteerism and a strong sense of responsibility for the large population of military members.
“We were all raised to take care of each other and the community around us,” Ward said. “It became a lifestyle, not a choice.”
Ward said that upbringing drove her toward service-culture positions that allowed her to help others, and to focus on the military and their families.
“Plus, I am a true extrovert who absolutely loves people,” she said.
As she worked through those early days of the COVID-19 crisis at Camp Zama, Ward kept her focus on the military families and searched for unique ways to address their needs.
That included a series of “Be in the Know With the Camp Zama SLO” videos to ensure her school liaison officer duties would not slip during virtual schooling. She filmed quick, 60-second videos that parents and students could watch to stay informed, educated, and even entertained.
She also brainstormed the “Letters Across the Pacific” initiative to celebrate the Month of the Military Child. The idea was to get students in Japan who might be suffering from the isolation of virtual schooling to reach out and connect with peers in Hawaii and South Korea.
Within weeks, the idea exploded and children and parents were creating pen-pal relationships with others who were dealing with the same issues. The initiative quickly grew, with participants in both the United States and Europe joining in the fun.
The Community Immunity Team also created a “Zama’s Got Talent” virtual talent show, socially distanced reading tours focusing on youth literacy, physical fitness and engagement events, and a series of videos of community leaders reading to youth.
One of those leaders was USAG Japan Commander Col. Thomas R. Matelski.
“I’m still amazed at how Lucinda and the rest of the team connected with our community,” Matelski said. “It seemed like every week we faced a new challenge, and every week her team came up with some new way to drive community involvement.”
Ward said the overall response to the Community Immunity Team was inspiring.
“The Camp Zama community was very welcoming to the programs and ideas that the Community Immunity Team offered,” she said. “We received a large amount of positive feedback. I believe the community loved what was being done.”
It would be easy to assume that leading the team would be the highlight of Ward’s professional career. When asked, however, she would say it comes in second place. In first? That’s easy, Ward said.
“Number one would be moving to Camp Zama,” she said.