Photo by Rachel Larue
Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Command Sgt. Maj. Earlene Y. Lavender, right, greets Syon Wills, 5, and his brother Syeed, 7, outside of Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Washington, D.C., Aug. 26.
A dozen Soldiers and civilians from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall went to the District of Columbia’s Amidon-Bowen Elementary School Aug. 26 to welcome children back to school after summer recess. The Soldiers brought book bags, notebooks, crayons, tape dispensers, binders, pencils, packets of hand sanitizer and other school supplies, some of which were handed out on the front steps of the school, with other items distributed later in the school day. JBM-HH is linked with Amidon-Bowen under the Partnership in Education program, which encourages servicemembers and federal employees to work with local schools to foster community relations and serve as mentors to students.
Joining Soldiers on the school’s front steps were Principal Izabella Miller, representatives from the District of Columbia government and Abraham Lincoln, or at least a mascot of the 16th U.S. president, which was lent to the event courtesy of the Washington Nationals baseball franchise. Inside the school, other community organizations from the Southwest neighborhood helped prepare for the arrival of students.
Serving as cheerleaders, Soldiers called out to students as they confidently and sometimes apprehensively approached the school with parents in tow.
"It’s the first day of school," called out Sgt. Maj. Willene Orr to a cluster of arrivals climbing school steps. "Let’s do it."
"You want a pencil?" asked Master Sgt. James Meyers, bending down and holding out a camouflage-painted pencil to a young child. "Come on, you know you do."
"Are you ready for school?" JBM-HH Command Sgt. Maj Earlene Y. Lavender asked a family approaching Amidon-Bowen. "Are you ready-ready, or just ready?"
Recognizing a good number of children as they approached the threshold, Miller called out to students by name, crouching down to greet them at their level and dispensing hugs.
Abe danced in place at the entrance to the school, giving high-fives and thumbs up signs to students, standing still only long enough to have his picture taken with various clusters of kids.
"Good morning everyone," said a parent in response to the welcoming committee.
"Abe is more of a hit this year than Screech," said Ward 6 ANC commissioner Ron McBee, alluding to the baseball-capped bald eagle mascot the Nationals sent to the school last year.
Assessing the bewildered look on the face of her daughter Cayla Hooper, 8, who is new to the school, Tia Purcell said, "She’s scared but also excited. There’s a lot to take in."
"It’s always fun to work with kids; to be able to give back," said Headquarters Command Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Alex Pratt. "It’s good to have the community and military getting together to show the kids we support them."
Orr said she enjoyed herself at the event, seeing the smiling children.
Lavender emphasized that all the Soldiers attending were volunteers. She said JBM-HH volunteers distributed 38 backpacks and a half dozen boxes of supplies. Additional donations, including contributions to school uniforms, which didn’t arrive in time for the Soldiers’ visit, will be presented to the school at a later date.
The command sergeant major said it was good to have some of the Soldiers involved with gathering supplies be present at the school to help distribute the material. "It’s better than having them put goods in a box and never seeing where it goes," she said.
While Lavender has paid visits to local schools while at other duty stations, she said this was the first time she attended the first day of school to welcome students as part of a military delegation.
"It was a real eye-opener of what the Army does for the community," she said.
"Support of this event upholds JBM-HH’s mission of fostering and strengthening good community relations and partnerships," said Leah Rubalcaba, joint base community relations officer. "It serves to continue the strong relationship between JBM-HH, the Ward 6 ANC commissioners, the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly and Amidon-Bowen Elementary School."