‘Bigs’ team with ‘littles’ to ease stress

Sheri Byrd
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***Each month, 20 to 25 Ramstein American High School students volunteer to play and bond with 60 to 65 Ramstein American Elementary School students whose parents are deployed.

The Deployment Buddies program matches a “big” with several “littles” for writing letters to absent parents, sharing treats and playing games for an hour.

Some of the high school students’ parents are also deployed, but some of them just remember what it was like to have a deployed parent when they were little.

“The high school students just want to come,” said RAMS counselor Maryann Porter. “They can see the good they are doing immediately on the faces of the younger children.”

“The little ones are so cute,” said senior Katrina Castillo. “I think this program really helps them feel like they aren’t the only one going through this, and they see that others have gone through it before and come out alright.” Katrina’s mother, Capt. Kerry Castillo of the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, will soon be deploying for four months.

“You get to do really fun stuff,” said Katrina’s buddy, second-grader Natalia Gorsline.

The program was designed jointly between the elementary and high school counseling teams, spear-headed by Dr. Majel Braden and Ms. Porter.

Also on hand at the March event were representatives from Ramstein Dental Clinic and Army Community Services. Both organizations donated gifts to the students to help them feel recognized from the larger community.

“The program just continues to grow,” said Dr. Braden. “We’re getting more and more participation from the whole community.”

Remaining parents are invited to attend, and sometimes even grandparents show up to partake in the fun.

“My kids look forward to this so much every month,” said Valerie Wardell, mother of preschooler Connor, and second-grade twins Jake and Ryan. Mrs. Wardell’s husband Capt. Brent Wardell, 86th Maintenance Group, has been deployed for three and a half months.