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NEWS | May 18, 2016

Army Reserve Soldier sparks Head Start students’ imaginations

By Staff Sgt. Shawn Morris 99th Regional Support Command

CLEMENTON, N.J. – When a six-foot, one-inch Soldier in uniform read to children at the Head Start school here May 12, he must have looked like a giant from one of the stories he shared with them.

Sgt. Russell Toof of the Army Reserve’s 326th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment read to dozens of three-, four- and five-year-olds as part of the school’s military appreciation week.

Despite his resemblance to Jack’s formidable fairytale foe at the top of the beanstalk, Toof’s visit allowed the children to interact with a Soldier in a safe and fun environment, a first-time opportunity for many of the students.

"I was worried that kids that young would be scared of a stranger coming into the classroom, but they were really welcoming and it made volunteering my time that much more enjoyable," said Toof, who is also a civilian public-affairs specialist with the Army Reserve’s 99th Regional Support Command headquartered at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

"Kids that young will instantly let you know with their facial expressions if you're doing a good job or not, and they all seemed pretty happy," he added.

The Head Start program promotes the school readiness of young children from low-income families through agencies in their local community. Head Start programs support the mental, social, and emotional development of children from birth to age five. In addition to education services, programs provide children and their families with health, nutrition, social, and other services.

“I’m glad that he came,” said Pamela Shervington, Head Start teacher. “The children were excited to see him … he did an awesome job.”

Volunteering for community engagements such as this represents a key mission of a community-based force such as the Army Reserve, which has nearly 200,000 Soldiers serving at nearly 1,000 Army Reserve facilities in neighborhoods across the country.

"I thank the school for allowing me to be a part of the classroom for thirty minutes,” Toof said. “If they asked me, I would go back."

For more information on Head Start, visit the program’s official website at