Joint Base Andrews’ 11th Civil Engineer Squadron has a long history of supporting humanitarian efforts in the Prince George’s County community.
On April 26, the unit loaned their technical skills to fix up a home as part of the 26th Christmas in April Day Anniversary event.
The recipient was retired Army Col. James Simpson, a veteran with 30 years of service who’s home fell into disrepair due to his failing health.
Simpson was elated at the bee hive of activity going on inside and outside of his 40-year-old home.
“This was a surprise to me,” said Simpson, a Hillcrest Heights resident. “I don’t know how my daughters got in touch with these people,” said Simpson, as he sat in his living room chair listening to music from the radio. “But they’re doing a wonderful job. While I was in the service, I travelled so much I wasn’t home enough to tend to the house, and my wife wasn’t well enough to do it,” said Simpson, who wife was bed ridden during the renovation.
The contingent of volunteers could be seen everywhere; atop the roof applying gutter guards, replacing old windows with new ones, scraping paint from the underside of the porch soffit, painting window seals, mulching, digging holes for Azalea bushes, to beautify the backyard, carrying bags of refuge from the house to a 30-yard metal dumpster, sanding cast iron porch rails and building a wheel chair ramp from scratch.
The Simpson’s also received a newly retiled basement floor, new electrical outlets, rewired ceiling fan, replacement smoke detector, Asbestos abatement and installation of new pipes and fittings for a water heater.
Simpson would periodically walk around his home, helping the volunteers with trash disposal or anywhere else he could lend a helpful hand. “I’m glad my daughters found these people to work on our home. While I was serving, I was away more than I was at home,” said the 85-year-old veteran.
Walking around also seemed to serve the purpose of working out the stiffness in his knees due to numerous jumps as a former paratrooper. He enjoyed talking with the veteran and civilian volunteers.
Both of Simpson’s daughter’s were also on hand to help with the workload. “We found out about Christmas in April from a social worker named Carolyn Davis from In House Services,” said daughter, Kim Ferguson.
“She takes care of my mother, who has Alzheimer’s and multiple myeloma,” said Ferguson, a Silver Springs resident. “So through that organization, she asked me if we wanted to apply for Christmas in April and I told her yes. She came over and we looked around my parent’s home and saw some things that could be accomplished,” said Ferguson. “She mentioned that she saw my parents had a need and put our application in and we were accepted,” Ferguson said, smiling.
“Getting support from Christmas in April is seeded and abundantly more than I expected. I’m just so thankful, because my parents are elderly and definitely needed the help,” said Ferguson. “My sister and I are getting rid of things they’ve had for more than 40 years, and with the dumpster that they provided we’re able to do it. And the people are just so kind and willing to help. It’s just a blessing. Who would’ve thought … we had been wanting to get them new windows, but with of the expense of my mother’s health care, it’s really taken a lot because they’re on a fix income. It’s a blessing to get this work done on a voluntary basis. They have been good parents to us. So we both do what we have to do to help them.”
The continguent of Andrews’ volunteers was comprised of first timers and seasoned veterans, with three house captains overseeing Andrews’ contribution to the project.
For Staff Sgt. Derrick Jones, a heating and air conditioning technician assigned to the 11th Civil Engineer Squadron, the event was his way of giving back to the community. “We get a request in from the community from time to time,” said Jones, a native Washingtonian and veteran volunteer. “This is kind of what we do on a daily basis on Andrews. It’s fun getting everyone together outside of the base in the community. I was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, so it’s always good to give back to the community. That’s what the Air Force taught us.”
For House captain, Master Sgt. Miguel Rodriguez, it was a bitter-sweet time in his life, because it would be his last time working with Christmas in April in Prince George’s County since he will be transferring to a new duty station in the near future.
“I’ve been doing Christmas in April for roughly the past 14 years. For me, it’s a way of giving back to the community,” said Rodriguez. “It’s also a way of team-building outside the unit, providing more camaraderie for our unit in Civil Engineering and a kind of cross talking and networking between the various shops because we’re a diverse squadron.” Rodriguez noted that variety of people were involved in the day-long event.
“Right now for example, we have a lot of operations folk, two flight chiefs, we have a couple of retirees present. So it’s a total force mix that I really enjoy. Plus at the end, you see the difference that you make in somebody’s life. That’s the biggest part. How you interact with the homeowner at the beginning, go through the transformation and at the end when you see tears of joy in their eyes because for them it’s really a random act of kindness,” said Rodriguez.
All of the volunteers donated their work skills, transforming a fellow veteran’s home back into a safe, livable environment.
“As I walked around I could see people working in teams, completing tasks. And the whole event was beautiful when they closed out the event with a lunch and we went go back and at the end of the day, the homeowner was amazed,” said Rodriquez.
“So really what we do is take people from all different demographics, different cultures, and different areas of the country and unite for one special cause,” he said. “Helping out a fellow veteran who’s in need of home repairs. It’s a beautiful thing. To me it’ almost like what we’re supposed to do, perpetuating a better image in the community. We go abroad defending the country, but we’re also taking care of people at home. I will continue to do this wherever I go.”
Rodriguez also had the benefit and support of Master Sgt. Craig Newman and retired Chief Master Sgt. Walt Poliansky, a former 11th Civil Engineer Squadron member and 20-year volunteer with Christmas in April.
According to the Christmas in April organization Prince George’s County branch to date has repaired more than 2,339 homes with the help of over 77,900 volunteers, with an estimated $40.3 million dollars worth of donated work.
This year, Prince George’s County’s Christmas in April organization enlisted 3,500 volunteers to perform much needed repairs for 83 local home owners in celebration of its 26th anniversary.
Christmas in April, one of the county’s leading volunteer organizations, has been providing low income houses in communities since 1989.