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My Coast Guard
Commentary | June 26, 2024

Learn how the Coast Guard PIE program builds morale, strengthens community partnerships

By Edward Stoker, National Partnership in Education Program Manager, Civil Rights Directorate, US Coast Guard

The Partnership in Education (PIE) Program unites the Coast Guard family with local schools and communities through opportunities to work directly with students, which enhances educational opportunities and raises awareness about the service. All local PIE Programs are command-sponsored, volunteer-driven, and partnership-based.

During the 2022-2023 PIE Program year, Force Readiness Command (FORCECOM) and 12 other commands in Norfolk Main Street Tower, and Coast Guard Station Little Creek collaborated to support three elementary schools, an early childhood center, and community-based organizations, including the Society of American Military Engineers.

The PIE Program collaborative created activities which included: a weekly reading-mentorship program at an elementary school; a weekly fitness program at another elementary school; two elementary school career days; an elementary school girl’s leadership event; one preschool field day; an English as a Second Language event at the zoo; and four different donation drives including a Holiday Teen Angel drive for homeless teens. All-in-all, 30 Coast Guard volunteers from the Norfolk PIE collaborative donated 70 hours to favorably impact approximately 200 preschool and 1,000 elementary school students.

According to Rear Adm. Randall, “The PIE Program is about more than helping students in our communities. The Coast Guard, its members, and the communities in which we work and live, also have needs. The PIE Program provided me an opportunity to meet multiple needs for the benefit of all.  That is why I continue to provide command-level support for the program.”

Rear Adm. Jeffrey Randall supported the PIE Program by: 1) sponsoring the program; 2) designating a PIE Coordinator; 3) allowing Coast Guard members, including civilians, to volunteer; 4) helping units gain access to schools; 5) facilitating financial support; and 6) ensuring all activities were recorded. 

Randall stated, “Our PIE Coordinator LTJG Kelly Kuong and other volunteers like CWO Melissa Skinner, YN1 Ezekiel DeJesus, and BMCM Christopher Schwalm, handled everything in an effective manner and in accordance with all regulations and guidance.”

Knowledgeable of Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, and Office of Personnel Management, Randall encouraged both military and civilian personnel to volunteer in support of PIE Program activities. “I encourage commanding officers to engage their units in community-based volunteer activities when possible. The PIE Program is a great option."

To create the opportunities for personnel to volunteer, the collaborative leveraged local school connections where Coast Guard members had students to help build relationships, determine individual school needs, and establish mutually beneficial partnerships and activities to help meet those needs. According to Randall, “Establishing partnerships and associated activities can take time but once established, the PIE program runs smoothly and everyone wins.”

Randall further explained, “Although the national PIE Program does not have funds to support local efforts in the more than 200 communities across the country, the Coast Guard units engaged in the PIE collaborative in Norfolk did not have to provide unreasonable financial or materials support. More than anything else, it was the heartwarming generosity of Coast Guard volunteers that made our PIE Program activities possible."

And, the work that Randall, his unit and his collaborative partners are doing is proving valuable. In 2023, under the command of Randall, FORCECOM in Norfolk, Virginia was awarded the Partnership in Education (PIE) Program Best Collaborative Unit Award among Coast Guard units with up to 100 personnel. Every year, one large unit (over 100 personnel) and one small Coast Guard unit (up to 100 personnel) are recognized with a Best Collaborative Unit Award for successfully collaborating with other units to support the education of students in one or more schools during the previous program year.

To learn about all PIE Awards and the 2023 award winners, visit the PIE Awards section on the PIE Program page — large or small, all units are critical to the success of the Coast Guard and its PIE Program.

Randall summarizes his experiences to date, “While helping students, I have found that the PIE Program helps units maintain high morale, unit cohesion, and community connectedness. Coast Guard employees who volunteer in our PIE Program find joy and meaning in helping educate young Americans. At work, as well as at community events, they are happy to help and are strong team players. And in the community, they effectively connect with others and represent the Coast Guard and our core values. An added benefit of PIE is that people in Norfolk get to learn about the Coast Guard in a very U.S. Navy-centric community.”