ALTOS DE BETHANIA, Panama (NNS) -- USS Ingraham (FFG 61) participated in a community relations project during port visits to Panama in August 2014.
Ten Sailors from the USS Ingraham, based out of Everett, Washington volunteered at the Helen Keller School for the Blind (Escuela de Ciegos) during a port visit while on deployment to the U.S. Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet areas of operation.
Donated by Project Handclasp, USS Ingraham distributed toys and supplies to the institute to include school supplies, skateboards, and soccer balls. The students were ecstatic to receive the new toys and finally enjoyed meeting the Ingraham Sailors after two previous community relations projects sponsored by Ingraham. In honor of their appreciation, the students performed for the sailors, singing some of their favorite songs.
"After spending so much time at sea, it can be easy to forget that what you do as a Sailor really does matter," said Lt. j.g. Susannah Tobey, a USS Ingraham Sailor from Copper Center, Alaska. "Seeing the excitement on the students' faces, and knowing that the work we did made an immediate impact on their lives, really helps bring things back into perspective. I am so glad I was able to participate in this experience!"
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.
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. The back yard was manicured into an area useful to both the educators and students. Volunteers continued resurfacing the kitchen floor with new ceramic tile, an extensive job that was started in a previous visit.
"The work is very exhausting but when you see the smiles and joy on the kids faces every second is worth it," said Seaman Benedict V. Faolotoi. "I look forward to participating in another community relations project."
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.