A tradition that began some 12 years ago for Tacoma, Washington-area SIU members remains very much alive and well today, as evidenced by the recent completion of another project with philanthropy at its core.
Responding to the call of Paint Tacoma Beautiful, a crew of Seafarers (including family members and friends) on Sept. 19 put the finishing touches on a project involving the exterior upgrade of a private residence in their community. Armed with an assortment of drop cloths, ladders, paint brushes, other tools and a collective mindset of compassion, the crew completed what days earlier had been a full-scale upgrading project on the home of David Rees.
Altogether, the team devoted more than 150 manhours effecting repairs to Rees’ residence. Specifically, team members power washed, scraped, sanded, primed and painted the entire dwelling, including trim, doors and hand rails. Essentially, they gave the entire abode a muchneeded facelift.
Rees said he heard about the Paint Tacoma Beautiful project a while ago and that it normally was done for older, low-income people, but he was not sure if he qualified. Nonetheless, he said, he applied and hoped for the best.
“Some people from the project (Paint Tacoma Beautiful) stopped by my house and talked to me about the program and I told them about my income situation,” he said. “Later on, they called and told me that I did qualify for the program, and that they would be happy to take on my house. I thought that it was fantastic because my house really needed some work and I was not able to do it myself.”
Not long after this get-acquainted encounter with Paint Tacoma representatives (in late August), members the SIU crew arrived at Rees’ residence. They assessed the magnitude of the work to be done, formulated a plan of attack and launched the initial phases of their upgrades.
From the outset, the group made a genuinely positive and abiding impression on the homeowner. “They were a bunch of real nice, well-mannered guys who did a really good job,” Rees said. “It was a real pleasure meeting and talking with all of them. They were just a group of real neat guys, and a couple of gals came by, too. They all were just really nice people.”
Rees is a senior citizen who lives alone and is approaching his 80th birthday. “I was glad to get to 80 and now I’m hoping to get to 90,” said the military veteran who was born and raised in Utah. “I am not originally from Tacoma,” he shard. “The service brought me out here, so after my service ended, I just stayed.”
Incidentally and by pure happenstance, Rees has ties to the SIU. It turns out that a family member of his (Clair Cox) back in the 1980s graduated from the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education’s apprentice program. She sailed with the union for a few years out of the Seattle hall.
“Like I said, all of the people who came here and labored on my house were really neat guys (and “gals”), they did a fantastic job and I really appreciate all the work they have done,” Rees added. “It’s just great.”
Ben Anderson, SIU Tacoma safety director, who organized this year’s project, was pleased with Rees’ kind words about the SIU team’s performance. “We’re all elated that Mr. Rees found our efforts beneficial and that they made a difference in his quality of life,” he said. “I’d like to thank our members for once again giving of themselves and supporting this effort to help people in or community. I can’t say that I am surprised about their response though, because that’s what they always do.”
SIU Port Agent Joe Vincenzo stated, “The thing that strikes me most about this project is that providing this service cuts across national, ethnic and religious barriers in that it brings together work parties consisting of all walks, creeds and colors. We just don’t see enough of this in the news. I’m sure that it is out there, but you just don’t see it or hear about it unless you yourself are involved. It is not only out there, but it is also here alive and well in Tacoma.” (Vincenzo originally spearheaded the union’s participation both in Paint Tacoma and Santa’s Castle, the latter an annual holiday toy drive for U.S. military families.)
AB Justin Bowe, a member of this year’s team, is one of many Seafarers whose selfless devotion to volunteering in order to help others continues to make Paint Tacoma Beautiful flourish. “Justin Bowe helps us every year,” Vincenzo said. “He’s the best.”
“I volunteered because it was a good way to give back to the community and at the same time represent union labor and show those in our community that we care,” said Bowe, who has been sailing under the SIU banner for nearly 16 years. “Also, the project took place while I was on vacation. I happened to be between ships at the time, so it was ideal for me.
“Volunteering for programs like Paint Tacoma Beautiful is something that we as Seafarers can do because of our unique work schedule,” he continued. “We can get involved in these community projects during our down time. And that’s different from a lot of people who work 8 to 5 or more than 250 days a year and don’t have the time or opportunity to volunteer for these types of community projects. Volunteering for the project gave me a good feeling inside because the people who submit their houses for the program usually are not physically or financially capable of going out and painting their houses on their own. This is my second or third time and it’s always been for senior citizens living alone.”
Speaking of both Paint Tacoma and Santa’s Castle, Bowe concluded, “It’s wonderful to do this because it makes you feel like you are a part of the city that you live in. I’m sure that efforts like this reflect positively on individual Seafarers as well as the union as a whole, but beyond that, I think it sends an even greater message. It clearly demonstrates to the people in the community that we do indeed care about performing service in our community. Hopefully it will inspire others people to give a little bit more of themselves.”
Chief Cook Abelardo Reyes, who joined the SIU in 2009, was a member of Paul Hall Center Apprentice Class 729 and has been sailing for almost 10 years, echoed Bowe’s sentiments.
“I was off of work when the project started, so I just wanted to volunteer in order to serve the city of Tacoma and help people by doing what is necessary to make their lives better,” he said. “I worked on this project from about 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the first day. The group went back the next day, but I could not go because I was back on my ship.
“I’ve been blessed since joining the SIU and I just wanted to give back,” he continued. “This is the first time that I did such a project with my SIU brothers and sisters, but I have done similar types of endeavors before with different friends of mine who belong to other organizations.”
Reyes added, “Volunteering made me feel good because I know that I have done something nice to help people, my fellow man, my fellow Tacoma people. I will encourage more of my brothers and sisters to get involved in such projects, because to me it helps build morale and character. It’s always good to do something for someone else and not expect anything in return.
Paint Tacoma Beautiful is a largescale regional effort to spruce up homes for citizens who don’t have the means or resources to do it themselves. Tacoma Seafarers are believed to be the longeststanding supporters of the program.
This year’s SIU Paint Tacoma Beautiful crew included: Recertified Bosun Richard Szabo, QMED Randal Kramer, AB/Dragtender Billy Born, ABM Justin Bowe, Port Secretary Brenda Flesner, Emilia Flesner, Alicia Bishop, Port Agent Joe Vincenzo, Patrolman Warren Asp, Safety Director Ben Anderson, Recertified Bosun Thomas MacGregor, QEE William Mogg, AB Raul Molina, AB John Villa, AB Mark Louie Manalansan, OMU Eduardo Arroyo, AB Mohamed Aboubaker, ABM Kareem Ahmed, GUDE Abdul Salam Mohamed, Recertified Bosun Adel Ahmed, AB David Brusco, Chief Cook Abelardo Reyes, OS Corey Shanley and OMU Joe Ritchey.