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New Horizons attorney organizes donations to Panamanian children

Capt. Aaron Jackson poses with students from Portuchada School Aug. 8. Captain Jackson collected more than $4,000 worth of school supplies, toys, sports equipment, clothes and food for Panamanian children while deployed in support of New Horizons Panama 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Eric Petosky)

METETI, Panama -- Capt. Aaron Jackson poses with students from Portuchada School, Aug. 8. Captain Jackson collected more than $4,000 worth of school supplies, toys, sports equipment, clothes and food for Panamanian children while deployed in support of New Horizons Panama 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Eric Petosky)

Capt. Aaron Jackson inflates a donated soccer ball with a student from Nicanor School Aug. 7. Captain Jackson collected more than $4,000 worth of school supplies, toys, sports equipment, clothes and food for Panamanian children while deployed in support of New Horizons Panama 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Eric Petosky)

METETI, Panama -- Capt. Aaron Jackson inflates a donated soccer ball with a student from Nicanor School, Aug. 7. Captain Jackson collected more than $4,000 worth of school supplies, toys, sports equipment, clothes and food for Panamanian children while deployed in support of New Horizons Panama 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Eric Petosky)

METETI, Panama -- Capt. Aaron Jackson knew before he volunteered to deploy to Panama for New Horizons that he wanted to do something special to improve the quality of life for children in Darien Province - so he sent a message to friends and family back home to see if anyone would donate items.

From a simple letter and social networking, two months later, Captain Jackson has collected more than $4,000 worth of school supplies, toys, sports equipment, clothes and food, making an impact on hundreds of children.

"When I arrived, my wife and I had discussed trying to put something small together to correlate with the official military mission," he said. "I wrote a letter, and she sent it to our friends and family. I suppose I just crossed my fingers, because we didn't expect much. We thought it would be great if we received 10 boxes, and we wound up getting more than 90."

After such an overwhelming response, Captain Jackson teamed up with Marines from the 4th Civil Affairs Group to organize and distribute the donations. By the time New Horizons concludes in September, they will have delivered donations to seven schools and two indigenous tribes in the area, impacting the lives of more than 600 children.

"The reactions have been wonderful," Captain Jackson said. "One instance that stands out in my mind is when we travelled to the Lara Tribe. When we arrived, we were greeted by about 150 kids who came to the hut that served as their community center. After we played and distributed everything we brought, one of the female leaders of the tribe came to me to express her thanks. She told us that no one had ever done anything like this in the history of the tribe. It made me feel very good that we had reached out to people who had never experienced that kind of generosity."

Jackson, a staff judge advocate deployed from the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., has had to ask people to stop sending packages because he is running out of time and room to distribute them all. He will finish distributing the donations on hand, and then redeploy after New Horizons Panama finishes.

"The response has been amazing," he said, "thanks to the people back home who have made this the success it has been. In my mind, I really didn't do much. All I did was take 30 minutes to write a letter, and friends and family did the rest."

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