Airmen Donate Items to Orphanage in Latvia

By Senior Airman Allyson Manners
U.S. European Command 

Members of the 171st Air Refueling Wing’s Civil Engineer Squadron with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard personally delivered glasses, clothes, books and toys to children at the Naujene Orphanage, near Daugavpils, Latvia, June 29.

Senior Master Sergeant Mark Nicolia and Technical Sergeant Richard Ryden, members of a military team working on a Humanitarian Civic Assistance project in Latvia, collected many of the items delivered to the children.

Nicolia and Ryden teamed up with coworkers at their civilian place of employment, the Cambridge Springs State Correctional Institution in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. Nicolia and Ryden wanted to do something more for the children at the Naujene Orphanage.

“We asked our coworkers about a week in advance if they would like to donate any new items that we could bring to the kids while we were here [in Latvia],” said Nicolia. “The amount of items brought in was amazing.”

The items donated by the correctional institution, combined with donations from members of the 171 CES, were enough to fill an entire nine-passenger van. Aircrew members joined the CE squadron in a joint effort to deliver the toys, ensuring there was enough room for every donated item on the KC-135 aircraft that flew the 171 CES to Latvia.

Airmen delivered the donated items and visited with the children. Some of the smaller children played with the toys while two teen girls picked out their glasses. The donated glasses carry a special meaning to the people involved.

“The glasses donated were made by inmates at the institution as part of an optical vocational training program,” said Ryden. “The facility houses only women; many are mothers separated from their own children. They were very excited to be able to make something that other children need.”

Lilita Gasjaneca, Director of the Naujene Orphanage, with the assistance of a translator, spoke to the Airmen about their visit and the donations.

“Today, we are family,” Gasjaneca said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Those who hlped with the delivery were equally emotional about their visit to the orphanage.

“Being able to see the children and hold them, and feel all those emotions- it makes this whole trip and all the work seem worth something,” said Staff Sergeant Rikki Robey, an electrician with 171 CES. “It drives me to do my absolute best work while I’m here.