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Helping Latvian Orphans Through Training

Lilita Gasjaneca, head of the Naujene Orphanage (left), Senior Master Sergeant Mark Nicolia and Technical Sargeant Richard Ryden pose for a photo with a local leader and two girls from the orphanage after donating glasses made by inmates at their civilian place of employment, Cambridge Springs Correctional Faciliity, Pennsylvania, at the orphanage, Latvia, June 29, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Allyson L Manners/ Released)

Lilita Gasjaneca, head of the Naujene Orphanage (left), Senior Master Sergeant Mark Nicolia and Technical Sargeant Richard Ryden pose for a photo with a local leader and two girls from the orphanage after donating glasses made by inmates at their civilian place of employment, Cambridge Springs Correctional Faciliity, Pennsylvania, at the orphanage, Latvia, June 29, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Allyson L Manners/ Released)

June 29, 2015, NAUJENE, LATVIA: -- Members of the 171st Air Refueling Wing's Civil Engineer Squadron with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard got the opportunity to
hand-deliver glasses, clothes, books and toys to children at the Naujene Orphange, near Daugavpils, Latvia, June 29, 2015.
Senior Master Sergeant Mark Nicolia and Technical Sergeant Richard Ryden, members of a military team that is working on a Humanitarian Civic Assistance project in Latvia collected many of the items that were delivered to the children here.
Nicolia and Ryden worked together with co-workers at Cambridge Springs State Correctional Institution, Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. Nicolia and Ryden are currently working with other members of 171 CES, and wanted to do something more for the children at the Nauyene Orphange.
"We asked our co-workers about a week in advance if they would like to donate any new items that we could bring to the kids while we were here," said Nicolia. "The
amount of items that were brought in was amazing."
The items donated by the correctional institution combined with donations from members of the 171 CES were enough to fill an entire nine-passenger
van. Aircrew members joined CE in a joint effort to deliver the toys, ensuring that there was enough room for every donated item on the KC-135 aircraft that flew the
171 CES to Latvia.
Members working on the project were able to go into the orphanage to deliver the donated items and visit with the children. Some of the smaller children played with
the toys while two teen girls picked out their glasses.
Their joy at receiving the glasses was apparent- their smile beamed as their friends took pictures, and remarked on how nice the glasses looked on them.
The donated glasses carry a special meaning to the people involved.
"The glasses that were donated were made by inmates at the institution as part of an optical vocational training program," said Ryden. "The facility houses only women, many of who are mothers separated from their own children. They were very excited to be able to make something that other children need."
Lilita Gasjaneca, Director of the Naujene Orphanage, with the assistance of a translator, spoke to military members about their visit and the donations.
"Today, we are family," Gasjaneca said. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
Members were equally emotional about their visit to the orphanage.
"Being able to see the children and hold them, and feel all those emotions- it makes this whole trip and all the work seem worth something," said Staff Sergeant
Rikki Robey, an electrician with 171 CES. "It drives me to do my absolute best work while I'm here."