Larry LaRue: Gig Harbor native driven to help others spends vacation with refugees

Staff Writer Staff WriterFebruary 12, 2014 

Daniel T. Jones, who grew up in Gig Harbor, is shown with Afghan Scouts. He worked with them last year while he was deployed in the country with the Washington National Guard. He is spending his vacation in Jordan helping Syrian refugees.

COURTESY PHOTO

When he went to Afghanistan last year, Lt. Daniel T. Jones was driven by duty — his Washington National Guard unit was deployed with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Now, he’s in Jordan, working with Syrian refugees, especially children, while burning his three-week leave.

This time, the trip is a matter of compassion.

“Part of my job is to monitor the Middle East,” said Jones, who grew up in Gig Harbor. “Watching Syria from a distance, it got to the point where I felt like I should do more than be a passive observer. I decided last fall to look for nonprofit organizations there, and contacted a bunch.”

One of them — Helping Syrian Refugees In Jordan — responded.

Run by a British woman, Catherine Ashcroft, the group tries to help refugees after they’ve crossed south into Jordan. That help is practical, and the organization has been offering it since 2011.

“They accept clothing donations from around the world and pass them on,” Jones said. “The biggest need is for the children, many of whom are orphaned, who’ve had to leave their homes with nothing.”

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said in a November report that 1.1 million Syrian children have become refugees during the country’s 3-year-old civil war, with most of them living in neighboring countries.

Months before leaving for Jordan on Feb. 1, Jones turned his mission into a family project.

Jones, 28, recruited one of his two younger sisters, 24-year-old Amelia, to put together a clothing drive.

“Daniel started a fundraising website because they told him money went so much further in buying clothing,” father John Jones of Gig Harbor said. “And Amelia did most of the clothing drive, and she was almost too effective.”

Too effective?

“I’m only allowed to take so much with me, and Amelia filled three Army duffel bags with children’s clothing,” Daniel Jones said.

His father wasn’t surprised by the efforts of his children.

“Daniel has always had a heart for children,” John Jones said. “Amelia wanted to help him, and his other sister, Laura, is in the Peace Corps in South Africa.”

World travel never intimidated his son.

“Daniel went to Peninsula High School, but went to Gig Harbor High for German classes his sophomore and junior years,” said John Jones. “He spent his senior year in Germany as a foreign exchange student.”

The military wasn’t in the original life plan of Daniel Jones. After high school, he went to Western Washington University, then Seattle University, and graduated at 23.

“I came out of college at the peak of the recession with a degree in history,” he said. “There wasn’t a demand for me, so I looked at the Washington Guard. My bachelor’s degree qualified me for officers training.

“Over the past five years, half of my duty has been one weekend a month, half on full-time assignment.”

In Afghanistan, Jones assisted the Army Corps of Engineers and found he could spend time with Afghan scouts — an organization much like the Boy Scouts.

“It was a really unique opportunity, volunteering to work with boys and girls in the Scouts, kids of mixed ethnicities,” he said. “It fit my personality. I like helping others. It’s why I wear the uniform.”

Months ago, when Jones began thinking of this three-week trip to Jordan, he first cleared it with his Guard unit.

“I’m doing this for myself, and it’s personally motivated,” Jones said. “I’m not representing the Guard or wearing the uniform. I didn’t push it on anyone else, and I’m not taking sides in the conflict. It’s an apolitical act.

“The civil war in Syria has created the worst refugee crisis of the century. This is all about helping those who are suffering. Those kids are the future. We have to help.”

When he returns, Jones isn’t certain where he’ll be stationed. When he left, he was based in Virginia.

“I get out in May,” he said. “I’ll come home and see what the job market looks like. I’d like to work in public service, with the government or the nonprofit sector. When I got involved with Helping Syrian Refugees In Jordan, my hope was to promote them, not me.

“I’ve gotten nothing but complete support from friends and family. This trip was something I felt I had to do.”

How to help

Anyone wishing to donate to Helping Syrian Refugees In Jordan through Daniel T. Jones can do so through Saturday at gogetfunding.com/project/helping-syrian-refugees-in-jordan.

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638
larry.larue@thenewstribune.com

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