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by Yvonne Butts-Mitchell + photos courtesy of United Way
United Way teams up with hundreds of volunteers to make changes with an immediate impact.
What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours. Those opening lyrics of a ‘40s love song could also be the anthem for the hundreds of United Way volunteers who set aside one day each year to rock the world, one local project at a time. Last October, more than 900 men and women left their regular jobs and reported for work toting power washers, paint brushes and shovels, ready to dig into more than 80 fix-up and clean-up assignments during the annual United Way Day of Caring.
For many, this was a repeat performance. “They do it because they love it,” says Kathy Saxman, director of community impact and investments at United Way of Washington County, who oversees the project. “They love to see the look on people’s faces when the work is done.” The program continues to grow significantly and reaches into all sectors of the community, including nonprofits and private homes. The 2014 Day of Caring is already set for October 9.
Cathy Blair has had a role in Day of Caring since its inception 23 years ago, first as a participant and now as a member of the steering committee and coordinator for her employee team, Bank of America Merchant Services. Last year, her crew stepped up to complete a big painting project for Community Rescue/Engine #2 as the unit made their move into a new location. “We got a professional estimate of about $6,000,” says Terry Gearhart, volunteer captain of Community Rescue. “We run about 13,000 calls a year so that doesn’t leave us much downtime to do it ourselves.”
Cathy visited the site in advance to patch holes and do prep work and she and Terry worked with the United Way and Sherwin Williams to get the paint at half price. The morning of the project, the team got training on using the sprayer and then finished the project in one day at a cost of only $900. “Every dollar we save on expenses is another dollar we can put back into training, volunteer programs, paid personnel and equipment,” notes Terry, “We are here seven days a week helping people 24 hours a day and we depend a lot on donations. This United Way program helps a lot of non-profits to save money.”
On Day of Caring, Mike Harris leaves his job as hub industrial engineer for to deliver on a new promise; he leads the FedEx Day of Caring teams. Last year, Mike and 13 employees spent a day doing clean-up and painting in Hagerstown City Park.
“City Park is definitely a county jewel,” says Hagerstown Parks and Recreation Superintendent Junior Mason. “It is the most used of the 19 parks we are responsible for but with 44 acres to cover there, we can’t always get to all the corners.” Mike’s team spread mulch and applied wood preservative to extend the life of the park’s assets among other things. “You don’t notice the maintenance in the park until it isn’t done,” Junior states.
“The most noticeable thing we did was clean up and paint the wrought iron fence; that difference was visible from the road,” says Mike. “It felt great to see what we accomplished from start to finish.” The visible progress and general do-goodery has made recruiting for the event a breeze. “When we asked employees to get involved in the Day of Caring again this year, there was an overwhelming response; people want to be part of it,” Mike continues. “Many of our employees had no idea how much United Way is doing for all the organizations in town. They see that their donations to United Way mean that they are helping a lot of people.”
In Boonsboro, the grounds and buildings of San Mar Children’s Home got an instant facelift that same day thanks to 52 employees from Volvo. “For that one day, they overtook our campus and it was fun!” says Terri Siefert, San Mar director of development and marketing. Projects included painting, landscaping and building a stone pathway.
“The team was very self-sufficient and took care of things from beginning to end. Coordinators called ahead and made advance visits. When I told them then what we needed, they kept saying ‘Think bigger! We have a big team. Give us more!’” Terri says. The Volvo team also brought a dump truck and an excavator as well as 100 percent of their supplies. “It was energizing to be around such a great group. It was a huge success and we are so grateful for their help,” Terri adds.
Hancock resident Ruth Taylor understands gratitude, too. She and her husband have lived in their home for more than 40 years. Most home maintenance and repairs are out of reach for them now; she is bedridden and at 85, her husband suffers with severe arthritis. A three-member team from the cement supplier Holcim power-washed the Taylor’s home and replaced an old storm door that will help cut heating costs. “Without this help through the United Way, it just wouldn’t get done,” Ruth confides.
“A lady up the street called me and said she had seen what the people in T-shirts had done in just one day. She wondered who they were and how I got that help,” Ruth adds. “I wish I had known she needed help, too, but I’ll know next year.” Ruth Taylor understands the difference one day of caring can make.