Marines volunteer time to help special needs children

18 Dec 2003 | Lance Cpl. John E. Lawson Jr.

Marines here volunteered to brighten the day of children with special needs at Brynn Marr Behavioral Healthcare System of the Carolinas in Jacksonville, N.C., Dec. 5.

Staff Sergeants Andrew Mejia and Wendy Shuman, both career retention specialists from Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division here, handed out posters and stickers while answering the children's questions about the Corps and military life.

Tracey Sosa, director of developmental disabilities services at the facility, said the Marines worked well with the children. Some of the children, most excited about meeting the Marines, were the shyest when the Marines were there. The staff sergeants noticed which children were acting shy and weren't asking questions, and asked them questions. This got the children to participate more.

"It's awesome to be able to relay information to children with special needs," said Shuman, a Hollywood, Calif., native.

The children, all diagnosed with developmental disabilities, have special needs that are taken care of at the facility.

"The children had questions and were practically sitting on the edge of their seats with anticipation," Mejia added.

According to the faculty, the children remained excited about the visit afterwards.

"They talked about it for hours after the Marines left," Sosa said. "We videotaped the event, and the children watched it afterwards. They were laughing and talking very excitedly about everything they had seen and done that day."

She also said the children loved the stickers and posters the Marines had given them.

"Anything to bring a smile to a child's face is what I'm willing to do," Mejia, a Maplewood. N.J., native, added.

After the question and answer session, the children presented their visitors with posters they had made, and participated in a relay race.

During the race, each Marine headed a team and ran through the facility's gym, popping balloons. The children and their newly-made enlisted friends sprinted to chairs where they sat down on balloons, racing to see who could pop their whole bag the fastest. After a heated competition, the two teams tied, each successfully popping their whole bag of balloons.

"It always helps to have fresh faces and to expose the children to resources from the community. They've seen Marines on TV, the news, and in the Jacksonville parades. It's different meeting Marines in person. It helps them understand what the military does, and to understand that Marines are very friendly, helpful and positive," Sosa said.

The Utica, N. Y., native added the facility has never done anything like this before, but is considering making similar visits from community organizations a more regular occurrence based on the success of the Marines' visit.

Shuman said, "They were elated to see us. We expected less enthusiasm from them, and they shared so much more."