'Important to be Part of Community'


October 2017


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While no one takes their efforts for granted, Tacoma, Washington-area SIU members are as reliable as the calendar when it comes to giving back to their community.


Besides individual philanthropic outreach, Seafarers team up twice a year for major projects that have become SIU staples in the Pacific Northwest. One of those missions is named Santa’s Castle, and involves toy donations to U.S. military families. The other is called Paint Tacoma Beautiful – a larger, regional effort to spruce up homes for citizens who otherwise don’t have the means to handle it.


This summer marked the eleventh year of SIU participation in Paint Tacoma, as a group of 17 Seafarers painted and repaired a home for area resident Elviera Brown, a senior citizen. They finished the work in August.


“The program is great,” said Brown, who complimented the SIU team’s work ethic. “It’s a great help for me, especially since I don’t have the money that’s needed to have the house painted (by contractors). It looks good. I’m happy.”


For AB Justin Bowe, one of this year’s volunteers, the value of beautifying Brown’s home went far beyond anything monetary.


“I’ve lived in Tacoma almost nine years,” he said, “and I’m getting to the point where, because we’re such itinerant people, service like this helps make your community more of a home, rather than just a place you live between ships. When we finished, I felt like I’d done something important and worthwhile with my vacation time rather than sit around. I think it’s important to get out there and be part of the community.”


Recertified Bosun LBJ Tanoa also enjoyed the volunteerism.


“It was a great experience being able to give back and give time to the community,” he stated. “In some ways, it was like working on a ship – you have to do preparation and maintenance. It was a big effort and the homeowner really appreciated it. I think it’s a really positive thing for us to do.”


Fellow Recertified Bosun Tar Ahmed echoed those sentiments.


“The experience of being out at sea really did help us do this job more efficiently,” he said. “We power-washed it, chipped, cleaned and painted. Seeing the homeowner with a big smile on her face made me feel proud and made me smile in my heart. I’m glad we can do something for others.”


Recertified Bosun Darryl Smith heard about this year’s outreach when he stopped at the union hall, and he didn’t hesitate to sign up.


“I feel that a few hours out of my life to give a helping hand isn’t too much to ask,” he said. “Everything went smoothly, and we had a good turnout to give that help that was needed.”


Port Agent Joe Vincenzo, who originally spearheaded the union’s participation both in Paint Tacoma and (a decade ago) Santa’s Castle, said he particularly appreciated a subtle but noteworthy aspect of this year’s SIU paint gang. Against a backdrop of nationwide tension exacerbated by a fatality during demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, the SIU’s diverse group smoothly showed off not only their handiwork but also their genuine camaraderie.


“Each year provides new context and meaning to our outreach,” Vincenzo noted. “For example, when we painted the home of a World War II U.S. Merchant Marine veteran in 2008, the homeowner himself provided the storyline.


“At other times, it’s what’s going on politically or economically that gives additional meaning to our project here in Tacoma,” he continued. “This year, I can’t help but think about the multi-cultural demographic and strong team aspect of our SIU group. I truly wish for the sake of all that is good and fitting in this troubled world of ours that stories like this one could have a wider readership. I think it would inspire others to transcend the pigeonholes that we are all put in from time to time, and help change the way we sometimes see each other. But the tolerance and acceptance that is shown by our membership by and large is uplifting.”


Comprising this year’s SIU group were Vincenzo, Tanoa, Bowe, Ahmed, Smith, Patrolman Warren Asp, Safety Director Ben Anderson, Administrative Assistant Brenda Flesner, QMED Matthew Gilliland, OMU Brandon Tanton, AB Allan Makiling, AB Desta Gebrai, AB Robert Calvo, AB Tim Kelley, AB Anwar Alsharif, AB Jason Bentz and GUDE Andrees Ahmed.


Together, they logged nearly 100 man-hours, bringing the SIU’s cumulative total hours to nearly 1,500 over the past 11 years.


“It’s worth noting that most of our volunteers are at the top of their game and are longtime, rank-and-file members,” Vincenzo pointed out. “Only a handful are just getting started with their seagoing careers and the SIU. It’s also worth mentioning that this was Warren’s first year on point organizing the work parties. He was a bosun in his nearly 15 seagoing years, and he really brought to bear his acumen as lead person on the deck plates. Warren did a great job, as did all of the Tacoma Seafarers.”

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