Home News How 5 holiday heroes pay it forward to military families year ’round

How 5 holiday heroes pay it forward to military families year ’round

Courtesy Photo | For five Marine Corps Systems Command employees, giving to and helping others are year-round resolutions. Meet MCSC’s Holiday Heroes: (from top left) Doug Simpson, Marleen Alegria, Leanne Cannon, Richard Hodge and Lavonne Robinson.

Not all heroes wear capes. Cliché perhaps, but nonetheless true. For many, the holidays bring a spirit of giving and a desire to help others. For five Marine Corps Systems Command employees, giving to and helping others are year-round resolutions. They demonstrate compassion for others as they support Marines on the job, and use their spare time, skills and in some cases money to improve the lives of people both inside and outside the gate. Meet MCSC’s “Holiday Heroes.”

“The Ambassador”

Marleen Alegria loves introducing Marines and families new to Camp Pendleton to the neighboring Oceanside, California, community and all it has to offer. When she isn’t working at the Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch as a supply technician, she is out and about, connecting members of the Camp Pendleton community to activities and opportunities outside the gates.

“I love meeting all kinds of people and especially our Marines,” said Alegria. “It’s so rewarding for me to be able to connect the Marine Corps community here on base to all the great things here in my hometown, whether it’s a great place to get dinner or an activity I know they will enjoy.”

Alegria’s generosity does not stop at the gates of the base. She ensures every member of AVTB has a birthday celebration, complete with a cake. She also makes holidays special using proceeds from deposit returns on recycled bottles and cans she collects.

“Marleen is a very quiet person and doesn’t seek recognition for anything she does, but we see her and we appreciate her,” said Maj. Matthew Hohl, AVTB deputy director. “You would never know she has volunteered in the local community for more than eight years, dedicating over 1,000 hours of her time to events ranging from supporting local races to Earth Day celebrations. She makes a difference to everyone who she comes in contact with.”

“The Community Mother”

Lavonne Robinson is a busy woman. In addition to her job as a civilian Marine Corps logistician, Robinson takes time to care for those in the command, her church and her local community.

“Growing up in Albany, Georgia, my mother was the community mother; she always took care of everyone,” Robinson said. “I wanted to be just like her. It didn’t matter what we had, we were always taught to share. I love seeing people happy, and I believe that when you bless someone else, you’re blessed.”

Robinson volunteers her time to nearly every morale-building activity the command hosts, serving as a go-to person for fundraisers and social activities, as well as spear-heading collections for her office’s Toys-for-Tots and “Adopt-a-Family” holiday drives for the less fortunate. A proud Marine Corps wife and mother, she has been an active member of the Quantico-area Montford Point Marines Association for five years, donating her time to clean up local highways and assist with chapter activities.

Robinson also volunteers to give rides to elderly members of her church, and runs the “Diva Closet,” an annual prom dress drive for young women in her local community. She collects donated formal gowns, shoes and accessories, and gives them away free to high school students who may not be able to afford dresses for the prom.

“Across the board, Lavonne is there—whether it’s work or just to help,” said Steven Boyle, who works with Robinson. “We’re shipping around 7,000 assets a month and can do more than 60,000 contracts a year, so people are always being pushed. Somehow, Lavonne is always able to get people laughing and relieve some of the pressure in the office. She brings insight into the human factors that can sometimes get overlooked in the acquisition community. You can’t do enough for people like Lavonne who do so much for everyone else.”

“The Chair Man”

Richard Hodge’s schedule leaves little room for breaks. In his day job at MCSC, he is an IT specialist; off-duty, Hodge volunteers his time raising money for animal shelters, distributing wheelchairs to disabled children, and ringing bells for the Salvation Army.

“It was through the encouragement of my wife and friends that I originally got involved in these projects,” said Hodge. “Over the past five years, I have found volunteering to be rewarding because I know I am truly helping people.”

Willing to travel, Hodge has volunteered three times in Guatemala where he helped distribute 90 wheelchairs, giving the gift of mobility to disabled children.

The retired Marine is also president of the Stafford Dog Club, where he led the donation of 14 dog beds to a local animal shelter. The kennel club also raised funds for ballistic vests for the Stafford County Sheriff’s K-9 unit. And as a member of the West Stafford Ruritan Club, Hodge helped plan a free fall festival for adults with disabilities, and raised money during the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign.

“Richard is the type of person who willingly jumps in and helps other employees with mentoring or assistance when he sees the need,” said Andy Mittura, Hodge’s colleague. “Usually what I find is that people who are willing to help in the office are usually doing the same off-hours. I believe his time in the Marine Corps is a major influence in what he does now.”

“The Civil S.E.R.V.E.ant”

Dr. Leanne Cannon’s professional and personal lives are inextricably linked. As an instructional systems specialist, she oversees manpower, personnel and training programs for emergency response systems that help save Marines’ lives. As a volunteer at Stafford Emergency Relief through Volunteer Efforts in Stafford, Virginia, she provides training and counseling services that better the lives of those in need.
S.E.R.V.E. provides assistance to local families, ranging from food and housing assistance to educational programs.

Cannon began volunteering there several years ago with her Girl Scout troop. At the time, Cannon and her husband had the only troop in Stafford that accepted children with special needs. Since then, she has taught free classes in resume writing and interviewing skills, and developed online training.
“For my husband and me, this is a way to give back,” Cannon said. “Along the way, people have helped us out. We’d never be where we are today had somebody not helped us out at some point—not to give a hand-out, but to give help. And there are certainly many people out there less fortunate than we are. Our children and grandchildren are good; they’re healthy. We’re very blessed.”

Cannon, who has a Ph.D. in education administration, is also finishing her certification to become a life coach. She will begin offering those services to S.E.R.V.E. clientele after the holidays.

“Leanne and her family are big supporters of anyone in need,” said Marilyn Stevens, S.E.R.V.E. executive director. “If you need someone to fight your battles with you—or for you—they’re there. They always go for the underdog, and try to lift people up and give them a better future. It’s really amazing how much time and passion they invest in their desire to help.”

“The Everyday Hero”

For Doug Simpson, an engineer technician at MCSC, what began as a typical Monday took a turn for the better.

As Simpson approached the gate to Marine Corps Base Quantico Nov. 21, he spotted a man walking in just his socks, with a blanket draped over his shoulders for warmth.

“It was below freezing outside,” recalled Simpson. “I don’t know why anybody would be walking around out here in the freezing cold just wearing socks. I hadn’t made it very far on base when I realized I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to help him.”

Simpson turned his car around and approached the man, who was covered in dirt. He told Simpson he had left his shoes somewhere but wouldn’t specify. Undeterred, Simpson said, “Well, let’s get you some boots.” Simpson bought him boots, socks and a winter coat. After learning the man had no immediate family in the area, Simpson offered to take him to a homeless shelter. Instead, the man said he needed to get to Georgia.

Since Simpson could not take him to Georgia, he did the next best thing: he bought his new friend a bus ticket. After Simpson bought breakfast and gave the man money for food, the two parted ways.

“Honestly, I don’t think it’s a big deal, really,” Simpson said of his actions. “There are plenty of people out there—and you may not know their circumstances or what happened in their lives that knocked them down—but as a fellow human being, you should help those people get back up.”

Joe Kaminski, who works with Simpson at MCSC, said Simpson always pays it forward, no matter the time of year.

“As I stepped outside [the next morning] in 20-degree weather, I immediately thought of what Doug had done,” Kaminski said. “I am impressed and humbled by his act of kindness that day.”

Story by MCSC Office of Public Affairs and Communication

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