NORFOLK, Va. --
Members of the 203rd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer (RED HORSE), 192nd Fighter Wing, volunteered their time to construct a playground April 20, 2018, at the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk, Virginia. The effort was in coordination with the United Way of South Hampton Roads to help a Head Start preschool program remain in the neighborhood it primarily serves.
The preschool lacked adequate playground facilities for the 100 enrolled children. By volunteering their time and construction expertise, Airmen of the RED HORSE helped preserve a valuable program and provided the children a safe and fun place to play.
The Head Start program has been on the grounds of St. Mary’s, in the classrooms of their former academy, for approximately eighteen years. Federal grant money required to keep the program running was in jeopardy unless the facilities received needed repairs and improvements, including a new playground. The Head Start program could move to a new location, but Carol McCormack, president of United Way of South Hampton Roads, said they hoped the program could remain where it was.
“Most of these children walk here,” McCormack said. “So, if they moved out of the neighborhood, the children would lose their Head Start program.” United for Children, an affiliate organization of the United Way of South Hampton Roads, donated $20,000 in materials, but they needed someone to perform the construction.
A retiree of the squadron informed the current leadership of the RED HORSE about the need. A total of 34 people volunteered their own time. Among them were five civilians affiliated with the unit and one spouse of a member. Many of them took time off their military or civilian jobs to do the work.
“It’s our way to give back to the community for the support you’ve given us,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Getz, 203rd RED HORSE Squadron commander.
“This is the essence of community, when we can come together to do something for our most precious resources, which are children and our families in need,” said Kenny Alexander, Mayor of Norfolk, at the ceremonial groundbreaking. “We thank you for what you do for our country and, on behalf of the city, we’re very grateful.”
The volunteers also worked on upgrades inside the classrooms installing new blinds and fixing the valves in a bathroom. The construction was completed April 22, 2018 and the children have been enjoying the new facilities.
“The children love the new playground,” said Sara Layne, Center Coordinator and teacher at St. Mary’s Head Start. “We can stay out there for about an hour for each classroom, so it gives the children a lot of time to exercise... learning how to pull up and slide over, things that they may not be able to do in the classroom and when they go home as well.”