USS RONALD REAGAN, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Sailors sacrificed precious liberty time June 26 to participate in a community relations (COMREL) project renovating Hogar Arturo Prat school in Valparaiso, Chile.
According to Chaplain (Lt.) Richard House, Religious Ministries department, Prat is similar to a boarding school for underprivileged children. The school is mainly funded by the Chilean navy and through donations.
"Becoming a student here is a sought after position," said House. "The school's goal is to develop kids into competent, thriving and supporting members of the community."
More than 40 Sailors scraped, painted, welded and built a new fence to enclose the school's new dormitory. Many Sailors ended the day with a sense of fulfillment, knowing they made a difference in the children's lives.
"You can afford to spend one day of your life helping those in need instead of indulging yourself," said Midshipman Dennis Speck, weapons department. "It's something every Sailor should experience during their career."
"It feels good to help those in need," said Chief Aviation Structural Mechanic Victorino Sacro, Helicopter Squadron (HS) 6. "It's personal; it's a feeling from within that cannot be explained."
The students were in high spirits as they interacted with the hard-working Sailors. While the younger students stayed busy teaching Sailors local games and customs, many of the older students were glad to help with the renovation workload.
Some of the students jumped at the opportunity to show Sailors how to "really play soccer."
"They predicted a score of 25-0, and we're lucky nobody kept score," said Airman Apprentice Kevin Heard, weapons department. "The real joy was watching the kids recognize the Sailors' goodwill."
This was the second COMREL project Ronald Reagan Strike Group Sailors have participated in during the ship's transit to its new homeport in San Diego. According to House, this COMREL project was very expensive to sustain because of the supplies they had to buy in port, which couldn't be brought from the States.
"Without support from the ship's company and other various donators, we wouldn't have been able to complete everything they wanted us to do," said House. "We raised more than $2,000 in donations to carry out numerous renovations."
Capt. James Symonds, Ronald Reagan commanding officer, and Command Master Chief Kathy Hansen were able to tour the school, mingle with the staff over lunch and interact with the students.
The command doesn't plan to halt its association with Hogar Arturo Prat after building such a fantastic relationship.
"Capt. Symonds is very interested in developing a sponsorship program with Hogar Aurturo Prat," said House. "We plan to release more information on how the 'adopt-a-school program' will run after we get to San Diego."
House encourages Ronald Reagan Sailors to attend future COMREL projects by emphasizing the once-in-a-lifetime chance to interrelate with foreign cultures.
"It's only one day of your liberty, and it's an experience you won't recover from. That's why I engraved 'we will never forget your smiles' on the plaque presented to the school," said House.
Although the renovations made to the school were beneficial, the real reward came from the heartfelt values gained by the volunteers.
"The paint will last a couple of years, but the connection made with the children will last a lifetime," said House.
As Ronald Reagan leaves Valparaiso, the ship will continue to participate in Summer Pulse '04 as part of the Chief of Naval Operation's Fleet Response Plan, the ability to deploy up to seven aircraft carrier strike groups in a moments notice.
For more information about Summer Pulse '04 visit, the CFFC Web site at www.cffc.navy.mil/summerpulse04.htm.
For related news, visit the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn76.