By Edward Brennan
Part One: Settling In
One of the many joys associated with being part of Gate 15 is the strong connection to community. Being a good citizen often means more than just the occasional time spent at the polling place. Contributions to the communities in which we live has benefits in making a real difference not only to those that surround us but also gives us the opportunity to truly connect to our locales. At any level of volunteerism, we are rewarded with a feeling of positive change – and of course change is inevitable.
We had lived in Florida for many years, and I got the “orders” that we move closer to the grandchildren. My wife is, if nothing else, resilient. As I am a pilot, she knew that I would desire a home with hanger and runway. That girl is smart, she sold our home, bought our dream home, and we now live near Columbia, South Carolina. The sense of Florida community is in the past and we had to start anew. Assimilating into the vicinity took a little time and a bit of culture shock, after all my backyard neighbors are now 3 cows, 2 sheep, and a llama on the farm next door. We live fifteen miles from the state capitol yet rural. The needs are a bit different, and we all are still struggling with the social isolation caused by COVID-19. I was able to find two ways to serve while I spin up to a new environment.
The United States Marine Corps “Toys for Tots Program ” has the proud mission to collect new, unwrapped toys and distribute those toys to less fortunate children at Christmas in helping to bring the joy of Christmas and send a message of hope.
As U.S. Marine, I have been proud to support this program in the past. However, the needs appeared to be greater in our new community. COVID-19 and the ensuing economic conditions had accelerated that need greatly. A strategy was forming. Aviators generally are happy to help, so a bit of collaboration was in order. Needing to enlist new help, I persuaded… I mean went Marine, on my local Experimental Aviation Chapter – the Tree Top Flyers – to help spirit a drive, in collaboration with the Lexington Police Department. The attack was two pronged, have pilots reach out to others and each bring an unwrapped toy during our November meeting. Secondly, get a few Marines like me to scrounge up a matching grant to help bring in funds. Unlike some military operations, this one was a success. Collectively, we were able to distribute 12,888 toys to 5,363 children throughout the greater Columbia, SC area. Our efforts alone collected well over a thousand toys.
We were able to match our meager 500-dollar seed money, so maybe next year we will try to set the bar a bit higher. There were challenges. As can be seen by pictures, donors found it easy and a bit “cute” to buy gifts for five-year-old tykes. However, it was known that we needed to expedite toys for infants and toddlers. Nothing says happiness like a stuffed toy to a toddler, so the mission was clear. Of greater challenge are fulfilling the requests made by older children. It is hard to get the cell phone or tablet on the table, or wing as it may. We had several distribution dates, and it was extremely gratifying to see the joy as we met one parent’s goal.
Part Two: Squared Away
OK… that was way too easy. Being “squared away” in the Corps meant to some degree being in order, clean, and tidy. So why not practice what I preached. The Adopt a Highway program of the South Carolina Keep the Midlands Beautiful campaign was good way to canvas the neighborhood in a meet and great. As indicated earlier, my wife is resilient. It was inevitable that she would find a worthy project that would have me cleaning. The Adopt a Highway program has over 32 years of service in helping keep Lexington County clean. It is operated with assistance from the SC Department of Transportation (DOT) and we volunteers sign up for two year “enlistment”.
We took over a highway and expanded the perimeter. (I assume at this point you are noticing a bit of Marine speak). Normally, this would be a two-mile stretch, but four miles seemed way too much fun to miss.
We have our selected area cleanups scheduled to occur four times per year. At once I noticed something interesting, I can tell you the preferred beer, distilled spirits, and soft drinks used by the locals. I got a bit mad at the casual littering having been raised differently. However, a local sheriff’s deputy put it all in perspective for me. It seems it is a fifty dollar fine for littering, but a five-hundred dollar fine for open container. Smart economic policy, especially in COVID times for some I suspect.
We have put together a great little team and are somewhat successful in helping to cure the “broken window syndrome”. Less trash means even less trash. We picked up 32 bags on our first outing and only 28 on our last. Maybe someday, we will be unnecessary.
There were some personal goals to achieve. As a newbie to the community, I needed to crawl…walk…then run in volunteering. I desired to start local volunteerism by leading and gathering volunteers and also meet the greater community and neighbors.
It is great to be part of a new community. More opportunities to serve will become apparent as COVID-19 hopefully lightens up a bit and I now immerse myself to a new geography. One interesting benefit was in teaching me a bit of humility. Picking up trash on the side of the road is anything but dashing or gallant to a pilot. I enjoyed our teamwork and have a new respect for those that have to dodge traffic while working roadside. I just have to remember not to wear my orange flight suit so as not to be suspected of being an escaped prisoner on detail!