USS Ingraham Sailors Volunteer at Helen Keller School for the Blind in Panama
ALTOS DE BETHANIA, Panama (NNS) -- USS Ingraham (FFG 61) participated in a community relations project during port visits to Panama in June and July 2014.
Thirty-four Sailors from the USS Ingraham, based out of Everett, Washington volunteered at the Helen Keller School for the Blind (Escuela de Ciegos) during two separate port visits while on deployment to the U.S. Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet areas of operation.
"COMRELs offer the opportunity to experience parts of the Panamanian community not usually seen by tourists or casual visitors," said Electronics Technician 3rd Class Joseph Shepherd. "We are able to help the community by just giving a little of our time and return to Ingraham feeling like we accomplished something more than a superfluous day out on liberty."
Helen Keller School for the Blind, established in 1952, is dedicated to the development of skills in students with visual impairment and other challenges, such as deafness or autism. The training offered by the school provides the students an equal opportunity, allowing them to actively and successfully participate in social situations, family life, work and education.
The Helen Keller School for the Blind's mission is to mold individuals that are qualified, educated, independent, and ready to meet modern socioeconomic and cultural demands.
"Participating in this project endows a sense of accomplishment," said Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class Benjamin Oquendo. "Having a hand in something that can change the lives of others is simply great."
During the first visit to the Helen Keller School for the Blind, USS Ingraham Sailors spent the day restoring the facilities. The exterior of the building was given a new coat of paint, and the front entrance was power-washed and swept.
Landscaping of the grounds offered a safe environment for the children. Sailors removed rusted playground equipment, trash, broken glass, ceramic tile, and fire ants. The back yard was manicured into an area useful to both the educators and students.
"This community relations project has been a rewarding experience," remarks Information Systems Technician 1st Class Kipp Comstock. "I enjoyed assisting the institution in projects that the staff are not able to do and making the facility a better and safer place for the children to learn."
Sailors continued the school's restoration during their second visit. The front interior of the building was repainted, and the volunteers also began resurfacing the kitchen floor with new ceramic tile.
"I am extremely proud of Ingraham Sailors for the level of commitment and enthusiasm they have shown volunteering for community relations projects here in Panama," said Cmdr. Daniel Straub, commanding officer, USS Ingraham. "The fact that they choose to use our very limited time in port to help others speaks volumes about their character."
Ingraham is deployed in support of Operation Martillo, an international and interagency effort that targets illicit trafficking in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus.
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet supports U.S. Southern Command's joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations in order to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.