First Four spreads holiday warmth with German youth

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The crisp winter air vibrated with shouts and squeals from the children below. The grey cobblestones of St. Vinzenzhaus' courtyard echoed loudly with the children's rapid shuffles and scuttles. Smiling, Leon jumps high into the air as he reaches with all his might, his left hand extended to almost inhuman heights as he grasps at the sky.

The grey sky emptily stared back but it didn't faze him; not today. He smiled as his fingers grazed the rough, leathery underbelly of the football. Though he missed, his smile remained radiant as he shifted his glasses higher onto his nose and ran once more for the ball, because today is a good day.

The 52nd Fighter Wing's First Four group shared a touch of holiday cheer with the children of St. Vinzenzhaus institution of child and youth services Dec. 13, 2015.

The institution, operating in Speicher, Germany, serves as an educational assistance and child care center that also provides room and board for youth who cannot remain home for various reasons. The institution was founded 1904 by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic Vincentian family organization which dedicated its mission to supporting children.

Dr. Alexander Knauff, University of Trier professor of social work and sciences and the institution's caretaker, remarked on the First Four's visit to the institution.

"It's a fun day for the kids," Knauff said. "It's always nice to have visitors here so that there's something special for the kids. We try our best, but it's always nice when someone else decides to host something for the children."

Knauff mentioned how most of the youth at the institution, though they are not forced or required to stay at their institution, often come with hardships, such as their parents or guardians being unable to properly care for them or from various forms of abuse.

"When you have kids or young adults with problems, you can see how your help can help them come along in their life, and you can see that quite often for the kids who come here and stay long term," Knauff said.

Despite the personal hardships and obstacles they face, the children at St. Vinzenzhaus actively engaged with volunteers from the 52nd FW that Sunday afternoon.

"It was very fun to share the holiday time with the kids," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Steve Atkins, 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron supply technician and the event's Christmas Elf. "It lets them know that there are some people out there that care about them and gives them hope and brings a little joy in the tough times during the holiday season. I feel like this is a great impact for the kids and for us, too; it allows us to communicate and reach out to kids who are unable to experience the holiday season."

First Four volunteers engaged the youth of St. Vinzenzhaus with arts-and-crafts, designing cookies and coordinating an audience with Santa Claus, who gave out early Christmas presents.

Though it was a small event involving only a handful of the institution's many residents, a few voiced their gratitude of having the company of U.S. Air Force Airmen to spend during the holiday season.

"It's great you're here, it's nice to know that there's someone else that thinks of us," said Amina, a 14-year-old enrolled at the institution. "I hope that it continues. Sometimes I spend the holidays with my family and friends, but normally I'm here. I think it's cool that there is a place like this if I can't stay at home. I really enjoy your company and the Santa Claus appearance was cool. It's great for the smaller kids that you guys had Santa Claus show up."

Although the residents can leave to spend time with friends outside, Knauff said many normally spend the holidays at the institution.

"It's a great thing," Knauff said. "When you have all the kids in the institution, the kids don't get as much time outside as other children would. We can take care of everything, but it's always within these walls. The other children, however, spend time with their families and can go out with their friends at their homes. Kids here can have visitors, but when the kids want to do something, it's normally under our supervision - professional caretakers. It's always great when someone from outside the institution want to do something with our kids."