Andy Hint, Nick Kelly, and Chris Clark were Pvt. First Class Shawn Hughes' personal welcoming committee when he arrived at Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Friday afternoon, May 25th. PFC Hughes, who is stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, was returning to the area to see mom Paula Dieter before a tour of duty that will take him to Kuwait and Afghanistan.
When Andy, Nick, and Chris heard that transportation from Buffalo would not be immediately available for PFC Hughes, the trio intervened with the help of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming Recreation Department.
"Especially with it being Memorial Day, we felt it was wrong to leave a soldier at the airport," says Arc Recreation's Gary Buchanan, who secured an Arc van and escorted the trio on their patriotic journey. " PFC Hughes is only home for so many days. We felt that he should be able to spend as much time as possible with his family."
Gary is one of two full-time Recreation Department employees at The Arc, a private not-for-profit agency that serves community members with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, such as Down Syndrome and Autism. About 100 people take part in Arc Recreation, where typical activities include baseball games, hockey, dances, and bowling.
According to Andy, the group's Memorial Day weekend trip on behalf of PFC Hughes stands out as a Recreation outing like no other. He considers it a special act of service.
"Because of my disability, I can't serve in the military, so I find other ways to be patriotic," says Andy, who lives in Nunda with his mother. "Just drive by my house and you'll see all of the flags that I put out myself. Honoring servicemen makes me proud."
Chris and Nick have strong family connections to the military. Chris' father served in Vietnam and earned a Purple Heart. Nick's dad was an Army Sergeant in World War II, and his sister is a Marine.
"I feel that helping out PFC Hughes is important," Chris explains. "It's a good deed for a soldier when he had no one else to do it for him."
PFC Hughes' mom couldn't agree more.
"Because of the guys from Arc Recreation, I was able to spend a little bit more time with my son," Paula says. "As any mother of a serviceman will tell you, there is nothing more precious than that."
|Paula Dieter, reunited with her son, PFC Shawn Hughes|
|L-R: Andy Hint, Mark Clark & Nick Kelly hold welcome home signs created by the Open Roads Day Habilitation program of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming|