SAVANNAH, Ga. -- An operational pause during the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit's recent Training in an Urban Environment Exercise (TRUEX XXXIX) afforded Marines and Sailors an opportunity to extend a helping hand to the city of Savannah.
Several Marines and Sailors from each of the MEU's supporting elements volunteered a few hours of their free time to build a playground and perform landscaping for Savannah's Union Mission, Inc.
Union Mission provides housing and supportive services for homeless people. It offers the opportunity for independence and self-sufficiency and works to educate the community on, and advocate against, systemic barriers that cause homelessness.
According to Laura Webb, Director of Volunteer Partnerships for Union Mission, they receive more than 200 volunteers per month.
"We really appreciate the Marines being able to help us build this playground," said Webb. "This is a project we've been looking forward to completing for the kids."
"I've done this kind of work before," said Cmdr. Bryan Weaver, 24th MEU Chaplain. "I enjoy building things, and it's especially gratifying knowing it's for the children. Every child should have a safe playground to climb on and enjoy."
The playground was donated to the Mission by a local toy store and what would have been an all-day project, was completed by Marines and Sailors of the 24th MEU in little more than three-and-a-half hours.
"It was fun," said Cpl. Steven Almendarez, Aviation Ordnance Technician, HMM-266, from New York City. "It's nice to give back to the community whenever we can."
Just as the first group of Marines was putting the finishing touches on the landscaping around the playground, another larger group was gearing up and loading into three vehicles to volunteer their time and skills to the Frank Callen Boys and Girls Club, Inc. of Savannah.
The Club, which has grown tremendously over the last 75 years, provides a positive influence in the lives of thousands of boys and girls who have, in return, become productive members of their communities.
Marines of the MEU were afforded the opportunity to join the children and teenagers in their after-school Power Hour. The Power Hour is an educational program focused on tutoring and homework assistance. Additionally, the hour includes game room activities, arts and crafts and recreational programs. In keeping with the Club's mission, the goal of all programs is to provide a positive experience for youth.
According to Trent Chavis, board of director's president for the club, Marines and Sailors offered a great service to the club.
"This is a big group of volunteers. When are you guys coming back?" asked Chavis jokingly.
"It's really important for the kids to see positive role models and I thank the Marines of the 24th MEU for coming in today and representing the military in a positive way," he added.
The Marines that volunteered at the boys and girls club enjoyed the visit as much as the children did.
"This is the first time I've ever volunteered," said LCpl. Nathan Hall, Air Frame Mechanic, HMM-266, from Huntington, W. Va. "It's fun helping the kids out and I'm really enjoying it."
"I enjoyed working with the kids," echoes Cpl. Christopher Wiseman, Field Radio Operator, Command Element, from Atlanta, Ga. "It's good to give back to the community."
"I thought it was very interesting to get to shoot some basketball and play games with the kids on computers," said Cpl. Alexius Taylor, Supply Warehouse and Administrative Clerk, Command Element, from Memphis, Tenn. "It was a very rewarding experience."
According to Winston G. Gordon, program director for Frank Callen Boys and Girls Club, they get volunteers from everywhere.
"We're glad to open our doors to volunteers," said Gordon. "We welcome assistance from area churches, universities, different sororities and fraternities and we even get high school students that come in to help out."
"Without the volunteers, we wouldn't be able to operate," he added.
"This was a very motivating experience," said Pfc. Kwasi Leonard, Operations Clerk, Command Element, from Atlanta, Ga. "It's an awesome thing being able to give back to the community and help the kids with their work."
Follow the 24th MEU predeployment on their website at www.usmc.mil/24meu.