Military Personnel Help Shape Lives at West Beaches Schools

Article excerpt

Sixty-eight-year-old Perry Eskew doesn't need to spend every day at Alimacani Elementary School in the West Beaches, helping students and teachers.

But he has a penchant for helping young people do the best they can.

"My hope is perhaps to make some contribution to someone that will make a difference, perhaps an opportunity to turn someone around, to have them reach for the stars, to aim high," Eskew said.

The former Navy commander is one of dozens of active-duty and retired military personnel who have proven to be valuable volunteers in Jacksonville's public schools.

"The fact is that they're able to provide the expectation of what you look for in people that volunteer -- someone who could motivate the young people to say no to drugs, and to do hard work," said Tom Sheward, guidance counselor for Brentwood Elementary, where Navy reservists volunteer every Wednesday.

Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Light 48, based at Mayport Naval Station, recently won a state award for its participation in Alimacani Elementary's volunteer program. The squadron's commanding officer, Cmdr. Steve Senteio, said that when the military volunteers, everyone benefits.

"It's a good way to help kids develop role models," Senteio said. "They get to see people in the military who are just like they are; it's a way to bridge the gap."

Veterans and active-duty personnel can share their skills in everything from woodworking to leadership to computer services, he said. Additionally, schools may take advantage of years of wisdom and experience just by soliciting their advice and expertise.

Military volunteers do everything from assisting with workshops to ground maintenance. Just their mere presence has a positive affect on students, said Edward Dutton, guidance counselor at Lone Star Elementary School, which has partnered with the Mayport-based ship USS Philippine Sea for the last several years.

Usually, military people as well as civilians volunteer when a parent has a child in a particular school and decides to donate time there, said Sherri Akens-Riveria, the Navy's community services project coordinator for the Southeast region.

But Eskew's an exception; he's more of a dedicated career volunteer. After 23 years of assisting in various schools, including in Moscow, Russia, Eskew could be spending his days reflecting on it all. Instead, he prefers contributing his time and skills to Alimacani. …