Sailors pose for a picture with residents during a U.S. Navy visit designed to build relationships with the community at Aikwangwon, a home and school for the mentally and physically disabled. (U.S. Navy/MCC Wendy Wyman)

KOJE ISLAND, Republic of Korea - Active duty and reserve Sailors stationed across the Korean peninsula visited the Aikwangwon Social Welfare Foundation at Koje Island, Aug. 24, for a community outreach project with residents and staff.

The visit was a community relations activity planned around the Ulchi Freedom Guardian bilateral exercise and provided a day of games and interaction for both Sailors and Aikwangwon residents.

"We come here to make new friends, to learn more about Korean culture, and to help sustain our relationship with this wonderful school," said Rear Adm. Lisa Franchetti, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea. "We are honored to carry on the U.S. Navy's long relationship with the residents and staff at Aikwangwon."

The visit kicked off with a welcome from Kim Im-soon, superintendent of Aikwangwon, and a video presentation, highlighting the sixty year-plus relationship with the U.S. Navy. American service members and local volunteers then separated into groups to help residents with occupational training including assembling clothespins, building mobiles from shells, and making gimbop (a traditional Korean snack food) as part of lunch preparation.

"Just by being here, it builds a connection with the community," said Capt. Darren Hanson, vice commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea. "The residents are happy that we are here and just spending time with them. Ultimately, it's not about building things, it's about building relationships."

After lunch, the 60 U.S. Sailors broke into seven teams with their resident partners to compete in a series of team-building games. Both American and Korean team members warmed up with some freestyle dancing before moving on to games including a magic carpet race, a hit the target with a shoe competition, and a stuff the giant pillow with balloons race.

"For more than 60 years, our Navy has engaged with Mrs. Kim, her staff, and the residents of Aikwangwon," said Command Master Chief James Honea, from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea. "I can't think of any other community relationship more enduring than this and surely none more personally enriching."

Kim Im-soon founded Aikwangwon, meaning "the garden of love and light", during the Korean War with seven orphans and the support of U.S. Navy doctors stationed in Chinhae. Over the past six decades, the institution has evolved from one building into a campus which houses 240 residents, including children and adults of all ages, and provides specialized education for more than 200 students from across Korea.

Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea is the regional commander for the U.S. Navy in the Republic of Korea and provides expertise on naval matters to area military commanders, including the Commander for the United Nations Command, the Combined Forces Command, and Commander, U.S. Forces Korea.