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Twenty members of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines spent a special holiday evening visiting children at the Social Development Center in Zamboanga City Dec. 23.
"It made me feel really good to give my time and spent time with the kids. I was excited about it and could tell they were excited to see us," said U.S. Navy Aerographer's Mate 1st Class (AW/SW) Christopher Cross.
Founded in 1994, the center serves as a residential facility for children who are abandoned, neglected, orphaned, or abused. The children here receive personal care and rehabilitative services, with the hopes that they will eventually be reintegrated back to their families and communities.
JSOTF-P volunteers started the evening playing games and singing Christmas carols with the nearly 60 children at the center. Later, children received Christmas stockings and ate popcorn while watching movies. When the movie ended, the kids were led upstairs so they could see for the first time their new bedding, donated by members of the task force.
The JSOTF-P chaplain team-consisting of two Air Force members along with their Armed Forces of the Philippines counterparts-spearheaded the project. JSOTF-P has had an established relationship with the center spanning several years. From renovations to the facilities to donating toys, it has been a long-term priority of the command to give back to children in need.
"Last year at the center, we had the MIST [Military Information Support Team] senior enlisted leader dress as Santa Claus and had out toys to the children. It was really nice to see the kid's faces light up as they received their Christmas gifts," said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Dave Randall.
In addition to this visit, over the last few months around 100 JSOTF-P volunteers helped with painting the boys and girls rooms. At the time, volunteers assessed the children were also in need of new bedding, mattresses and draperies.
From that point, a collection was taken and dozens of JSOTF-P service members contributed to a fund which paid for new bedding and drapes, courtesy of the Western Mindanao Command Tailor.
Additionally, members of JSOTF-P's MIST donated approximately 20 mattresses, replacing the children's beds consisting of foam padding.
After the rooms were painted, several of the children expressed their excitement with their new rooms. One young girl mentioned that she is now proud to have her friends over and visit her freshly-painted bedroom.
In the coming weeks, JSOTF-P volunteers are also installing new doors and mosquito netting to decrease the outbreak of dengue fever among the children.
"The children are so happy that you guys are here. Thank you so much for everything," said Rizal Bacolod, a 17-year-old boy who lives at the center.