While most office workers were stuck inside behind a desk on this beautiful fall day, some of their colleagues in Meriden and Wallingford were out painting the town—literally. About 300 volunteers from local companies spent Tuesday, September 13, painting (as well as landscaping, cleaning, organizing and more) for local nonprofit social service agencies as part of the United Way of Meriden and Wallingford’s annual Day of Caring.
“This is a day that allows our agencies to do things they probably can’t afford to do themselves,” says James Ieronimo, Executive Director of the United Way of Meriden and Wallingford. Volunteers contribute about $30,000 worth of effort to the community on this day, he reports. (For a photo gallery of volunteers in action click the photos at right.)
The agencies and their clients aren’t the only ones to benefit. The Day of Caring also gives volunteers a chance to see how their United Way contributions are being spent. “It lets our volunteers see what goes on in our agencies,” Ieronimo points out.
At Rushford Center in Meriden, a facility that provides mental health services for children, teens and adults, volunteers from Canberra Industries, also of Meriden, were busy painting hallways and offices. One of them, Felix Garcia, an electronic technician for his company, has been taking part in the Day of Caring for three or four years now. “The reason why I do it is I’ve been pretty fortunate. I want to help others,” he says.
John Rogalsky, Facilities Manager for the Rushford Center, is grateful for the help. He and one other person are responsible for maintaining a building that measures nearly 100,000 square feet. The building is also old, but it has “good bones,” Rogalsky says. He doesn’t get a chance to do a lot of cosmetic jobs like painting that make a big difference to the environment for the clients, he says. The volunteers “have a lot of impact on one day,” he adds.
Referral Coordinator Kelley Moore, who is also responsible for community relations for the center, agrees. “If it were not for organizations that participate with United Way, we wouldn’t be able to serve our clients as effectively. This helps us keep right on task,” she says.
Across town at the Salvation Army, a group of volunteers from 3M’s Health Information Systems were also painting. Michael Murdy, a general contractor by trade, took the day off to lend his services by directing the volunteers.
At the same time, Salvation Army Lieutenant Brenda Gonzalez, who runs the facility with her husband, was working with 3M volunteer Galyna Latham to organize the food pantry in preparation for its move to a different location.
“It’s very nice that my company supports this and allows us to do it during the day,” Latham says. “More companies should do it.”
At Girls, Inc., an agency that provides after-school programs aimed at empowering girls, volunteers from Liberty Mutual in Wallingford helped out in two shifts, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Agency Executive Director Michelle Bordeau put them to work weeding, washing vans, and cleaning and organizing the game room.
“It’s huge for our agency,” Bordeau says. “The work that’s done in one day is something we would never be able to accomplish.”
“I’ve done it for years,” says one of those volunteers, Todd Youngberg. “It’s nice to give back to the community, and it gets us away from our desks for a little bit.”
Adds coworker Lorena Lima, “It also allows for bonding with employees you don’t usually see.” She and Youngberg, for instance, didn’t know each other before they spent the morning weeding together.
Day of Caring is part of a national United Way effort in which communities around the country hold their own special days of volunteering. United Way of Meriden and Wallingford organized its first Day of Caring in 1995, and has continued every year since. This year the need is greater than ever, says Wanda Guzman, Volunteer Coordinator for United Way.
“With the economy the way it is now, the small programs are taking the biggest losses,” she reveals. “It’s a hard time for everybody, so a lot of people aren’t giving the way they had in the past. This day