By T. Anthony Bell, Fort Lee Public Affairs
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FORT LEE, Va. – Fort Lee Sgt. 1st Class Demetrius Anderson’s volunteer work Feb. 4 at the Petersburg Boy and Girls Club of Metro Richmond will help him earn a master’s degree in clinical social work.
But his decision to spend time with patrons of the facility’s after-school program went far beyond checking off an academic requirement.
“I grew up in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio,” said the Logistics Noncommissioned Officer Academy student. “My childhood was a lot like these kids, and I really have a passion for people, especially youth and young adults.”
Anderson and roughly 14 of his fellow students volunteered their time at the Bank Street facility located less than three miles from Fort Lee, spending several hours talking with the children, helping with homework and playing games.
“I think it speaks volumes and says they’re important and we care,” he said of the group’s participation. “I think we should do more of this. We have a social responsibility to help the community.”
For the visit, soldiers were split among several groups of children ranging in age from 6-15 years old. On the second floor of the building, Anderson and a group of five other male soldiers were having a mentoring session with tweens and teenagers. A trio of female soldiers were down the hall doing the same.
On the first floor, the chatter and laughter of young voices echoed down the hall and resonated within the classrooms. The soldiers, sitting in chairs meant for elementary school students, were hunched over reading books, conversing with kids and writing down math problems – all of which put Sgt. 1st Class Betsabe Mullen in her element.
“I love this because I do this with my daughter every day,” said the Miami native. “It’s payback.”
Not far from where Mullen sat, staff sergeants Michael Barker and Phillip Hairston are sitting in chairs and talking about the experience. The value of providing assistance to the community has sunk it.
“I just finished helping a child with her homework,” he said. “We went through her math problems, and she looked at me and gave me a high five and said ‘teamwork.’ That’s amazing. I don’t have any kids on my own, but the impact, from what I’ve seen, has been phenomenal. I could do this all day. I think we’re doing the right thing for the right community and it should continue.”
For those like Sgt. 1st Class Tamara Taylor, it fills in a blank for something she has long savored but couldn’t fulfill because of her duties.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said the native of Tifton, Ga. “I never got the opportunity to do this so to be able to do it means a lot.”
Regina Wilson, the club’s program director, said the soldiers had an obvious impact.
“Our kids had a lot of fun interacting with the volunteers,” she said.
Soldiers from the schoolhouse visit the boys and girls club about four times during the school year, added Wilson. She said they complement the many activities and programs that are ongoing.
Most of the volunteers are students, and accordingly, they cannot commit to any long-term endeavors. Anderson said more of a commitment is needed.
“Honestly, I hope to perpetuate an actual cycle of community support,” he said. “I hope this action goes forward to where they can look at ways we can enhance community projects and advocate for the community to strengthen both elements. I think community youth would respond better if they see we actually care.”