Lin Clark Miller
516th Signal Brigade
311th Signal Command (Theater)
FORT SHAFTER — The dog days of summer have wound down, so the children who live on and near this installation have made their way back to Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter Elementary School, here, Aug. 5, for the first day of school.
Yet, the overgrown campus that greeted students and parents was surprising.
One parent’s surprise became resolve after seeing how Hawaii’s extended growing season and minimal custodial staffing at the school had allowed weeds to dwarf many of the students.
Capt. Christopher Stacy, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 516th Signal Brigade, decided to partner with the school and bring volunteers from his unit to help tame the wild weeds and give the campus, including the popular area called the “Turtle Path,” back to the students.
“When I saw that the children had to maneuver through waist-high weeds just to raise the colors on the first day of school, I knew that I needed to take action,” Stacy said. “My son, Christian, is in his third year here and has experienced nothing less than a positive and caring learning environment. It would be selfish of me to not give back knowing the difficulties that the school faces.”
When Stacy took his idea to the top school administrator, Principal Alison Higa explained that budget cuts and sickness within the custodian ranks accounted for the situation. Also, faced with budget constraints similar to the military’s, the school has lost personnel, resulting in difficulty maintaining the grounds. She gladly accepted his assistance.
“We employ one full time and two half-time custodians, one of which is currently on medical leave,” said Higa.
During the first week of school, four Soldiers spent their free time, before and after work, cutting the grass and weeds around the school grounds. Eleven more showed up before duty on Sept. 6 to pick up trash and cut more grass.
Although not a parent, Pfc. Randy Russell, an intelligence analyst, jumped at the chance to help out.
“I volunteered as soon as I was made aware of the opportunity,” Russell said. “It felt great. Giving back to the community is always a positive feeling.”
Spc. Brittany Jones, another intelligence analyst, agreed, calling the deed “exhilarating.”
“My company, myself included, value the youth of Fort Shafter and take pride to call this place home,” she said.
Jones’ 2-year-old son is part of the reason she will continue to volunteer at the school.
“My son may attend Fort Shafter Elementary,” she said. “I will continue to assist, so that while he’s there he can share this pride of where he and his friends get an education.”
Pvt. 2nd Class Kalynn Mims, information technology specialist, isn’t a parent, but found the endeavor enjoyable.
“Helping with cleaning the campus was actually really fun, and it made me feel really good inside,” she said. “I love helping people, period. … To know that my help is making a better environment for children to learn, explore and grow makes me feel even better.”
Higa shared that the manicured grounds were well received, and thanked Stacy.
“We are so appreciative of your gracious offer to assist our custodian,” Higa said.
Stacy also plans area beautification, like providing school flower beds with much-needed tender loving care. He said they may take their efforts indoors.
“Edging, painting and policing are just a few tasks that we will look into in the coming weeks,” Stacy said, adding, “The school also has a computer lab that was in rough shape last year, so we will see if we can assist in that area, too.”
Students are, once again, enjoying their school grounds.
“My son crosses the Turtle Path, daily, on his way to kindergarten,” Stacy said, “and now it is back in commission for all to enjoy.”
(Editor’s note: Miller is the unit public affairs representative for 516th Signal Brigade.)