Not a Day Off
Furloughed Dahlgren Employees Volunteer to Help Family in Need
Microbiologists trimmed the hedges, naval engineers installed shelving in the garage and scientists organized the basement.
On the first day of the government furlough, July 12, 14 Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) employees reported for duty at the home of a coworker in need.
Three years ago Constantin Langa began to suffer the debilitating symptoms of Wilson's disease, a rare genetic disorder that makes his body unable to process copper.
In a short period of time, Constantin, 30, suffered significant neurological damage, lost much of his ability to walk and talk and now produces excess saliva requiring his mouth to be stuffed with gauze.
For Constantin's wife, Nichole Langa, who works full-time at NSWCDD in Dahlgren, Va., there is little time available for routine chores and household upkeep. She raises their three-year-old son, Traian, provides constant care to her husband, and coordinates a host of doctors, specialists and care providers.
Collectively, the volunteers put in approximately 84 labor hours, installing new shelving units, organizing the basement and garage and landscaping the yard.
"It would have taken me, literally, years to do what they did in a day," said Nichole. "For me to do those chores, I would have needed to find someone to watch Traian and find someone to be with Constantin, and even then, I only get small chunks of time."
The cleanup effort makes life simpler for Nichole, providing easier access to Constantin's medical supplies and mobility equipment.
The relief came from NSWCDD's Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Defense Division employees and was organized by Division Head Mike Purello and Financial Analyst Karen Jarrell.
"Most of the folks are taking Friday as a furlough day, so we put this out there as something people could do -strictly voluntary - but we got a lot of interest," said Purello.
"These guys could be doing other things - relaxing, taking a long weekend - but instead they decided to come out here and help someone who really needs it right now," Purello added. "I'm humbled by what I saw here."
For some of the volunteers the decision to help was an easy choice.
"I'm furloughed, so I could be sitting at home complaining about it, or I can come out here and do something good to help someone," said Navy biologist Jeanne Fravel.
The majority of volunteers did not know the Langa family personally, but heard their story and wanted to do what they could to help.
"I am a young mother too," said Amanda Clark, a Navy microbiologist. "It's a lot to deal with even when you have two healthy parents. You never know when you may be in that same type of situation, so it's the least that I can do to come out and help somebody who needs it."
"My family came here from Vietnam and we had nothing," said Navy scientist Wynn Vo. "There's a lot of people that gave us help along the way. After hearing about the hardships Nichole is going through, I feel that if we can make life a fraction easier for her, it's worth it."
Many employees from NSWCDD that could not volunteer their time donated food and filtered water to the Langa family.
Constantin can't talk, but can use sign language, an iPad notebook and e-mail to communicate.
"There are no words to explain my gratitude and gratefulness for them to help," said Constantin in an e-mail. "As a dad and husband, I'm thankful that they helped with projects that I can't do right now. I was amazed at their beautiful hearts."
Constantin is on an aggressive regimen of medication that removes the copper from his system; however, the side effects include severe cramping and pain. It's a price Constantin willingly pays to get better.
"Right now we have a goal of being better by November," said Nichole. "Better is a generic term for us. It doesn't mean he'll be walking; it just means let's see some improvement. Let's be better."