By James-Denton Wyllie, Sentinel editorOctober 22, 2009
The message of the "Make a Difference Day" sign at the entrance to the Shepherd Center Apartments encouraged its readers in bright yellow and blue letters to, "help a friend fix something, do something for your community, spend time with someone who is lonely, give to a worthy cause or smile, hug and extend a kind word."
It was a message that many took to heart.
As a result, Atlanta's wounded warrior community received some much needed help Oct. 17, as members of Fort McPherson, Fort Gillem and Atlanta's communities followed the advice of the sign and volunteered to help renovate the Shepherd Center Apartments during its "Make a Difference Day" event.
Upgrading the Atlanta-metro apartments, which can house four-to-eight wounded warriors at a given time, was a great way to honor the men and women who have sacrificed the most, said Tina Helmick, Army Volunteer Program manager, U.S. Army Garrison Army Community Service.
"We wanted to give back to those who have given so much to our country," said Tina. "We're renovating the entire complex - planting flowers, painting, adding furniture - and on the 24th (of October) their will be a ribbon cutting."
Tina's husband, Sgt. 1st Class Brad Helmick, a contracting specialist for G-7, First Army, said the event being focused on wounded warriors made his volunteering more personal.
"This hits home for me as a military member who has deployed," said Helmick, who has served multiple deployments to Iraq. "It's a great way to give back for what they've done for us."
Girl Scout Brionna Johnson, 15, and other Girl Scouts from Greater Atlanta Girl Scouts Cadet Troop 1249 and Senior Troop 5780, planted flowers and painted window frames at the apartments. Although participating scouts earned credit toward their community service projects for their efforts, the greater reason for volunteering was not lost on them, said Johnson.
"They've supported our country and they're part of our community," said Johnson. "It's the right thing to give back to them."
In addition to contributing to a worthwhile cause, the event also allowed new members of the Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem community to build relationships in a positive environment. Chief Warrant Officer David Turner, an ammunition technician for G-4, Third Army/U.S. Army Central, and his wife, Debbie, were two of the new transplants.
"Debbie got involved in ACS, and we wanted to continue volunteering like we did in Maryland," said Turner. "Even though my job takes me out of the loop a lot, this fit in perfectly with my hectic schedule."
Turner was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground prior to arriving at Fort Gillem in September. He is also a newlywed, having married wife Debbie in March.
"I'm a new Army wife," said Debbie. "I thought this was a way to become part of, and introduce, my daughters to the community," said Debbie, who has two daughters, Katie, 10, and Grace, 14. "I want them to learn to make a difference."
Cynthia Giesecke, Army Family Team Building/Army Family Action Plan specialist, USAG ACS, was another new Fort McPherson member who hoped to make an impact. Having arrived in August, Giesecke said that the event presented a perfect opportunity to build bonds.
"I just thought it was a neat idea," said Giesecke, who is married to Maj. Heath Giesecke, a tactical officer for G-6, U.S. Army Forces Command. "The idea is not only to help the cause, but to build camaraderie and relationships between the military and outside communities."