WASHINGTON – Since coming aboard as base commander a little more than two years ago to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB), Navy Capt. Anthony T. Calandra has made a point to lead by example. There's no better case of this than his commitment to the Area Coalition for Education - Excellence (ACE-E) mentoring program for children at two nearby Ward 8 schools – Leckie Elementary and Hart Middle School.
ACE-E is a non-profit organization that supports inner-city children with mentors at local public schools near military bases and other federal installations. The program first began in Dayton, Ohio and was later introduced to the Washington area around the same time Calandra assumed his new position at JBAB.
Enamored with the idea of helping children overcome some obstacles in the classroom, Calandra, along with his wife, Tamara, signed up as volunteer mentors. The decision has been one of his most rewarding since coming to the region.
"A lot of these kids come from broken families. Trust is a key factor," Calandra told a group of prospective volunteers earlier this week. "Making a child understand you're there for them means a great deal. This is a great way to help children and give them an idea of what's out there in the world."
Based on the ACE-E program's structure, Calandra said a student who completes three separate computer-related projects with a score of 90 or better will receive a free laptop computer. Projects include writing a student autobiography or résumé using Microsoft Word, developing an independent budget through an Excel spreadsheet and later presenting their résumé and other information to a panel of ACE-E board members through a PowerPoint presentation.
Many service members from JBAB, which includes all branches of the military, have followed suit and have joined Calandra as mentors since the program's introduction to the area. That trend will continue again this year, as several Airmen from the installation's Air Force Honor Guard will be taking to the classroom in the hopes of reaching out to a young child.
"I was in the same spot as many of these kids not too long ago, so I know how valuable it is to have a mentor," said Senior Airman Christopher Vore. "I want to be able to give back. If what I do can inspire some young kid, I'm all for it."
Senior Airman Marcus Miles, also of the Air Force Honor Guard, is no stranger to ACE-E. He's returning as a mentor for the third year in a row.
"It's important these kids have someone to look up to. At this stage in their lives, having a role model is crucial," Miles said. "My hope is to help them set goals for themselves. I also want them to know they can keep in touch with me anytime."
As a point of note to his fellow mentors, Calandra suggests assessing a child's skill set before delving into the required work. He also said student participation is a privilege, not a right. He doesn't want anyone to assume any disciplinary roles. If a volunteer comes across a child with behavioral issues, or experiences anything of which they are unsure, it must be reported to the school immediately.
Other than that, Calandra wants mentors to have fun and enjoy their time in the classroom. He is confident it will be an experience they will never forget.
"Everyone should have a mentor in life," said Capt. Scott Belton, of the Air Force Honor Guard and a base liaison for the ACE-E program. "Kids need guidance. Some need more help than others. Our group will do whatever we can to help get them going in the right direction."