HONG KONG (NNS) -- For 17 USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 Sailors, a long weekend in Hong Kong was a welcome respite from the rigors of shipboard life. However, some "Gold Eagle" crew members did more than take in the sights and sounds of the bustling city.
Aug. 7, Lt. (Chaplain) Robin Heckathorne and a team of volunteers visited the China Coast Community, an elderly care center, to entertain residents. They also created a sense of goodwill that will not be forgotten by the group of Hong Kong senior citizens.
China Coast Community was founded in 1978 to provide care for English-speaking seniors who lived a majority of their lives in the Far East. The residents either have no family or are separated from them by great distance. Now in its 25th year, the community is home to men and women from across the globe, including Sri Lanka, Canada, Denmark, Great Britain, China, Japan and Malaysia.
After spending only a few hours at the China Coast Community, the Gold Eagle volunteers already held a special place in their hearts for the residents and staff.
"It was just a special experience, and it really makes you feel good about yourself," said Personnelman Seaman Robert Woo. "I don't want to be someone who doesn't do anything. I encourage all Sailors to get involved. Meeting new people and spending a little time with them is very rewarding."
The experience proved to be fulfilling not only for the volunteers, but also for China Coast's residents. The 36 seniors who reside in the community welcomed the Gold Eagle crew with open arms and warm smiles. It was immediately clear that this function was highly anticipated by both the staff and the residents of the home.
"Because of the SARS (Secure Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in Hong Kong, we had to stop all of our visitor programs for a long period of time," said Vijai Singh, China Coast's general manager. "Our residents were so pleased to have the opportunity to meet American Sailors."
Shy smiles quickly gave way to laughter and genuine affection, as the Sailors and residents got to know each other by trading stories and life lessons.
"It was great to meet people from so many different cultures," said Airman Randy Hansen. "I love to volunteer. How many people can say they've been to Hong Kong and made a difference in someone's life - even if it was just entertaining them for an afternoon?"
The 23 women and 13 men from China Coast happily joined the Carl Vinson Sailors in a sing-along that included "Amazing Grace," "Barbara Ann," "Country Roads (Take Me Home)," and many others songs. One of the more boisterous community members punctuated each tune by exclaiming, "Hip, Hip - Hooray!"
Heckathorne said the visit to China Coast was another example of Carl Vinson Sailors reaching out to host countries.
From Guam to Japan and Australia to South Korea, Carl Vinson volunteers have spent many liberty hours giving back to the communities they've visited throughout the aircraft carrier's extended deployment to the western Pacific.
The most-recent project in Hong Kong was one of eight community-service projects coordinated by Carl Vinson's Chaplain Department. Officials designed the projects to lend a helpful hand to the local community and strengthen ties between the two cultures.
The Carl Vinson Strike Group is deployed in the western Pacific as a standing commitment to peace, stability and theater security in cooperation with friends and allies in the region.
For related news, visit the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn70.