October 27, 2016 –
DORADO, Puerto Rico - Fostering a relationship with local community members can be compared to restoring a house. You have to make sure you have a solid foundation, see what needs improvements, make the changes, and finally, look at the progress made.
U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers with the 471st Engineer Company (ENG Co.) and 756th ENG Co., 448th Engineer Battalion (ENG BN) headquartered in Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, did just that. From June 20 to August 3, approximately 60 Soldiers worked hard to help restore and rebuild an old elementary school into an Early Head Start center in the city of Dorado.
1st Lt. Stephen McNew, commander of the 471st ENG Co., supervised the renovation and Soldiers throughout the duration of the project. “Our mission was to renovate a school which consists of two separate buildings,” said McNew. “Both buildings were abandoned and not in use because of the repair needed. We put in all the windows, electrical wiring, plumbing, drop ceiling and tile for the floor so that the building could be used again by the children.”
These Soldiers not only help out their local community, they also have an opportunity to enhance their military occupation specialty (MOS) skills; from plumbing, electrical wiring, and painting to carpentry. These Soldiers worked hard to maintain proficiency in their skills and rebuild a facility that will indeed bring joy to the community and children who will attend it.
“I think we are really fortunate to have an opportunity to help the community and make a positive impact as well as get a chance to train our Soldiers in the skills that they don’t to use every day,” said McNew. “We had to source a lot of the Soldiers’ personal skills since a lot of them work construction or with renovation in their civilian life. We got a really good chance to cross train Soldiers who are new to the unit or construction or in general.”
McNew commented how this project turned into a great opportunity for them to take away some skills that will benefit them in the military and their personal life too.
The community of Dorado showed their pride and appreciation for the work put into renovating the school by coming together and hosting an inauguration for the Early Head Start Center
‘Tesoro Infantil.’ Mr. Carlos Lopez Rivera, mayor of Dorado, expressed his sincere gratitude for the U.S. Army Reserve for their support in renovating the school despite a lack of funds.
“We had federal funds and municipal funds for this project but it still was not enough. We had to start with what we had and pray that God would provide,” said Lopez. “Even though we had some contractors and bought some equipment with the funding, we still needed someone to do the work and transform this historic building into ‘Tesoro Infantil.’”
Mrs. Sarai Melendez Nevares, Director of Head Start and Early Head Start, made a unique connection with the U.S. Army Reserve and Lopez attributes this connection as a crucial step in turning an old school into the Early Head Start center it now is.
“Honestly, the Lord proved His word true, ‘Fear not, if God is for us, who can be against us?’” He sent us exactly what we needed, an Army of Engineers full of knowledge and armed with their tools, they transformed this campus into a sacred place.”
“We are extremely proud of the 448th Engineer Battalion,” said Lopez. “They are the ones responsible for completing this project.” He thanked the Soldiers for their hard work and impeccable work ethic and compared their commitment and dedication to his city’s philosophy, “A toda marcha, y con más fuerza”. (Full speed ahead, with more strength)
The Head Start and Early Head Start Program along with the mayor of Dorado, presented the 448th ENG BN with a plaque in appreciation for their hard work and dedication to the community and the children.
Col. John Simma, 210th Regional Support Command commander, mentioned what a great opportunity this was to give back to the community.
“It is great to be able to do these types of projects especially because the contributions the citizens of Puerto Rico have given to the United States in Serving our Country and what we stand for,” said Simma. “Our Soldiers really appreciate being able to give back to not only the citizens of Puerto Rico but the citizens of the United States. You have supported our troops and this is our way of giving back to the community.”
Before the process could even begin, an assessment had to be made and a design plan created. Master Sgt. Rodney Lindsay, 602nd Engineer Detachment operations sergeant, was an intricate part of the process since its inception. “First I had to come out here and take a look at what the community wanted, put together a project folder and then hand off that project packet to the 471st,” said Lindsay. “It is outstanding to see how we turned an abandoned structure into a two room school house that we can give back to the children and the community.”
For the director of the Head Start and Early Head Start program, opening this center was a dream come true. “I am really happy, this was a dream for me,” said Melendez. “Every day the Soldiers working here would tell them that they were going to help make my dream come true and today, we are able to celebrate. I am very grateful for the work they have done here.” Melendez added that if was not for this battalion of Soldiers, her dream would not have come true.