By Ophelia Bitanga-Isreal; Army Community Service; Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation; U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii March 29, 2013
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- Cars honked in support as they passed cheering volunteers on Trimble Road, waving signs that read "Rally for Respect" and "End the R-Word."
It was an encouraging start to the "R-Word: Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign rally, hosted by Army Community Service's Exceptional Family Member Program.
The R-Word campaign is a national movement to eliminate the derogatory use of the word retard and retarded.
March 20, EFMP hosted its inaugural R-Word rally on Weyand Field, Schofield Barracks, in partnership with Special Olympics Hawaii, or SOHI.
The partnership between SOHI and ACS's EFMP is fitting. Special Olympics is founded on the belief that people with intellectual disabilities can learn, enjoy and benefit from participation in individual and team sports.
EFMP supports and assists military families who have family members with special needs by connecting them to resources in the community, providing workshops and support groups, and by coordinating activities in which individuals with special needs can feel comfortable to participate.
By conducting an R-Word rally, EFMP hopes to educate the community on how using the R-Word in a derogatory manner can be dehumanizing to individuals with special needs.
"On behalf of the families we serve," said Leonard Webster, EFMP coordinator, "we wanted to create an awareness of how the use of the R-Word minimizes the real challenges some of our military families face."
While the focus of the campaign is to eliminate the casual and pejorative use of the R-word, its broader purpose is to encourage acceptance and respect.
At the rally, Col. Daniel Whitney, commander, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii, stated the rally was not only just about respecting our exceptional family members, but also about building a community that is inclusive and accepting of all members.
"We are making a conscious decision to change how we think and talk and, therefore, how we act (by participating at the rally and taking the pledge)," said Whitney.
The R-Word rally began with sign waving at both Fort Shafter and Schofield Barracks, and included dance and song performances by students from Wheeler Middle School.
Local celebrity Frank DeLima gave a pointedly humorous routine on bullying and teasing. Also, games and activities for the whole family intrigued participants, including a keiki ID booth by the Directorate of Emergency Services' Bike Patrol, Human-Animal Bond therapy dogs, a demonstration by Kuwilil Martial Arts and massages by the American Massage Therapy Association.
The 25th Infantry Division Chaplain's Office was on hand to discuss the developing Special Needs Ministry, and the 25th ID Lightening Jazz Project Band played to a growing crowd of almost 300 participants.
Eddie the Eagle, Captain America, Batman and other superheroes also made appearances to show their support of the campaign.
Whitney was joined on stage by Miss Hawaii Teen USA 2013, Samantha Neyland, who talked about how military youth can appreciate the differences among each other. Together, Whitney and Neyland led participants in the pledge to eliminate the use of the R-Word.
Almost 200 participants signed pledge cards at the rally to eliminate the use of the R-Word.
"That's 200 more people who now know about this campaign," said Webster. "Maybe they'll tell 200 more."