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Team Manta has a ball serving local community

Volunteers from the 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron cut the ribbon on a renovated classroom at a local school for the handicapped along with one of the visually impaired students who will be attending classes there. (Photo by Maj. Chris Hemrick)

Volunteers from the 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron cut the ribbon on a renovated classroom at a local school for the handicapped along with one of the visually impaired students who will be attending classes there. (Photo by Maj. Chris Hemrick)

SMSgt. Tom Hren, 190th Air Refueling Wing (which is deployed as part of the 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron), assembles a pitching machine that was donated to the Manta Baseball Academy. (Photo by Maj. Chris Hemrick)

SMSgt. Tom Hren, 190th Air Refueling Wing (which is deployed as part of the 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron), assembles a pitching machine that was donated to the Manta Baseball Academy. (Photo by Maj. Chris Hemrick)

MANTA AIR BASE , Ecuador -- Whether it's sports equipment, school supplies, computers or wheelchairs, Team Manta has been all over the local community this month, making a positive impact on people's lives.

Volunteers from the 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron here recently completed several community relations events.

At the beginning of May, Team Manta completed renovating a classroom for a local handicapped school, including tiling, painting and installing a drop ceiling. But that was just the beginning ...

The rest of the month included events where volunteers gave truckloads of donated school supplies to the community, soccer balls and 10 computers to local schools.

Most of the donated items were provided by members of the Kansas Air National Guard's 190th Air Refueling Wing "Coyotes," who are currently deployed here. SMSgt. Tom Hren, 190th ARW first sergeant, said, "The smiles on the kids' faces and the look in their eyes say more than words could ever express, just because you gave them a notebook and a pencil. When you see kids playing soccer with a rolled up ball of tape and you give them a real soccer ball, it really makes you feel good inside."

CMSgt. Dena Swisher, 190th ARW, said, "It was such a great feeling to see the children's eyes light up when the soccer balls were unloaded. I am thrilled to have been a part of this heartwarming experience."

Part of the school supplies included 3,000 pounds' worth of Spanish and English textbooks through a program called World Care. The 474th Operations Group (12th Air Force), organized the donation while the Sacramento (Calif.) Coast Guard transported the materials here from Tucson on the way to their deployment to Manta.

Besides the soccer balls, another donation that provided fun for local children was when the Kansas ANG purchased and donated a brand new pitching machine and 500 baseballs to the Manta Baseball Academy.

Mr. Raynier Rabelo, Manta Baseball Academy Director, said, "We're very to receive this machine. It's not a toy -- it's a tool for the team to improve itself."

"If children get involved in sports, it gives them something to do so they're not in the streets. Sports teaches them teamwork and rules, which helps develop them into better people," said SMSgt. Hren.

Finally the most touching donation of all was when Team Manta volunteers who teach English to children in the local community learned that one of the students - a young, handicapped girl - had to return a wheelchair she was renting. This meant that her mother would have to carry her on her back wherever she went.

"When the school director told us the story, we all looked at each other and were thinking the same thing ... 'We need to do something to help,'" said SMSgt. Hren. "Within two hours we had done research on the Internet, picked up a wheelchair, collected enough money and told our teammates back in Kansas which one to purchase so they could send it here. We gave a wheelchair to a little girl who was carried to and from school on her mother's back ... what more can I say."

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