SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.- --
For Vicki Rygiel, winning the Air Force award for Civilian Specialist of the Year is inconsequential to the benefits her career of helping children and families learn and thrive has provided her.
“I was humbly surprised (to receive the award); it’s quite an honor.” Rygiel said. “Abraham Lincoln said ‘whatever you are, be a good one;’ from seven years ago when I took my oath to serve the government, I took it to heart.”
A former School Age Care program coordinator for the 50th Force Support Squadron, now fulfilling the same role with the 21st Force Support Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base, Rygiel said her more than three years at Schriever helped form a foundation for her career.
“I learned a great deal at Schriever about being a School Age Care program coordinator,” Rygiel said. “I’ve made mistakes, like everybody does, but I learned from them. In all, it was a really good experience.”
Her Schriever years were characterized with path-paving efforts for the 50 FSS in innovating new programs and benefits to Schriever kids and families in the base community, said Mary Barkley, 50 FSS Airman and Family Services flight chief, and an important mentor during her time there, according to Rygiel.
“She took a program that had no real supervision and created a spectacular School Age Care program; taking it to a level I couldn’t even imagine,” Barkley said. “Her strongest characteristic is that she works well with people – helping get them to come out and work with our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and 4-H (Head, Heart, Hands and Health) programs. In addition, she brought in new programming we haven’t even had before.”
Rygiel’s achievements include furthering teaching on STEM related subjects through STEM nights and “StarBase Academy” events. She also established 4-H program affiliation at Schriever, helping kids improve in knowledge, health and spirit, and created a new link between Schriever and the Ellicott community. In addition, she used her experience as an artist to teach kids how to draw and paint and incorporated this in her STEM-related programs.
She was especially proud of creating bonds with the Ellicott school district.
“It was a big turning point for me, bridging the gap between the two and unifying the community,” Rygiel said.
For the future of her career, Rygiel aims to continue the trend of innovating and implementing SAC programs.
“I’d really like to progress and develop more for 4-H and other school age services, and create more consistency between them to show how these services all come together for the programs director’s and staffing,” Rygiel said.
Barkley, who submitted Rygiel’s package for the award, said she was compelled to do so after seeing the positive impact she made working with the 50 FSS; and unlike Rygiel, she wasn’t surprised to hear about her earning the award.
“She certainly deserved it. I’ve never had an employee earn this recognition,” Barkley said. “Working with her, she was positive and professional. I worked with a lot of staff in my 22 years here, and Vicki is at the top.”
While excited by this recognition for her service with kids and families, as a mother of three and a lifelong teacher, she’s not done helping the next generation of kids grow.
“I don’t know if I’m going to get more awards in the future, it’s kind of hard to top this one,” laughed Rygiel. “But if I can help enrich the lives of families in a big or small way, to me, I’m accomplishing my goal.”
In addition to Rygiel’s achievement, the 50 FSS’s Manpower and Organization office earned Air Force level honors as well. Find out more about their achievement here.