Sunday, November 23, 2014

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39º F (4º C)

U.Va. Employees Give Back to Community Through Day Of Caring

About 600 University of Virginia employees donated time to the community Wednesday, volunteering at approximately 50 worksites in the United Way’s annual Laurence E. Richardson Day of Caring.

University employees were spread across the region, contributing manual labor and people skills to community service agencies, local schools and organizations.

“University employees, as members of the community, contribute in many ways,” said Elisabeth Christian, volunteer coordinator for U.Va.’s Community Relations Office. “The Day of Caring is one more example of their efforts, supported by the University, because it understands the importance of their work, both as employees and community members.”

Some employees played to their professional strengths. Facilities Management employees brought their skills and equipment to Camp Holiday Trails, a camp for children with special health needs, performing roof repair, landscaping work, carpentry and cleaning.

“This is the most helpful volunteer group we get all year long,” said Peter Syme, a long-term volunteer at the camp and a member of its property committee, which oversees maintenance. “Most of our volunteers are unskilled, such as students. Here we get skilled craftsmen, with their equipment, doing things others can’t do.”

Jay Klingel, director of operations and maintenance, said that Facilities Management has had a long relationship with the camp, with the workers returning there year after year to work on projects.

“We can provide the type of work they need,” he said.

Syme said the volunteers’ work is vital to the operation of the camp, completing tasks that would otherwise have taxed their financial resources.

“We have more than 70 acres here, and it requires a lot of work,” said Syme, himself retired from Facilities Management. “They’re doing repair work and new construction that we would not be able to do normally, unless we had to hire it out.”

Robby Kincaid and his fellow carpenters were building a storage room in the dining hall, while landscaper Mark Thomas was helping to plant flowers.

“I appreciate the joy of being outside working with plants, especially on days like this,” Thomas said. “It gives you a sense of accomplishment, making things look pretty.”

“It’s a team effort,” Kincaid said. “All of us are in this together – the carpenters, the drywall people, the electricians. We’re doing everything as a group.”

While it was a busman’s holiday for some Facilities Management workers, others got to work in ways that were a refreshing change.

“This is something enjoyable,” said Ruta O. Vasiukevicius, a senior information analyst who was helping open trails. “I work with a mouse and keyboard. A few years ago, we built an outdoor table, and it is still there.”

Vasiukevicius and Klingel said the volunteer effort gave employees an opportunity to work with people with whom they did not normally work.

“It is refreshing to be doing something different,” said Katherine Meyer, a project manager. “And since we come back here every year, we see a sense of progress.”

Across town at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, U.Va. Medical Laboratory employees cleaned, reorganized and beautified. They worked with other volunteers from local businesses to prune and mulch the outside area, organize the animal carrier shed and deep clean the pet-friendly vans, among other tasks. 

“These vans now look cleaner than my car,” Jean Varner, who works with radioactive materials at the Office of Environmental Health and Safety. “We’ve been waiting for years to get a chance to volunteer at the SPCA, and the whole staff has been looking forward it this week. And it’s nice. Everybody here is so friendly.”

Inside the facility, volunteers cleaned animal cages and the upstairs veterinary student apartments. A few workers also constructed a new walled section in the lobby area to serve as a new intake area for stray animals.

“We are very thankful for the volunteers we get every year. We get a lot of support getting big projects we don’t have the time or the manpower to do,” said Kaicee Robertson, a SPCA project coordinator.

At the Golden Living assisted living home, volunteers from U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences enjoyed two 90-minute sessions of Big Money Marathon Bingo with the facility’s residents. Instead of playing for the normal weekly prizes, winners received cash for landing five in a row.

“The residents look forward to this day like nothing else, and after this day they’ll be looking forward to next year,” said Margaret Thacker, Golden Living’s project coordinator for the event. “When you include real money, people come out of the woodwork. Bingo here can be a contact sport.”

“Day of Caring has been a way for us to get out into the community,” said volunteer Kathryn Green, a medical care administrator at the U.Va. Medical Center. “We also get to spend time together as a team and work with a different population of people.”

Volunteers from the Carter G. Woodson Institute of African-American and African Studies, the Center for Politics and Upward Bound, worked at the Jefferson Area Board for Aging, staffing a carnival for those who use JABA’s services.

“We have adult day care and child day care here, and this gives us an opportunity to get everyone together for something that is outside their normal activities,” said Marta Keane, chief executive officer of JABA.

Keane said that apart from the fair, where there were games and activities, several U.Va. volunteers assisted with a “senior prom,” a dance event for JABA’s clients at the old Scottsville Elementary School gymnasium.

“We had people in from Charlottesville and the six countries that we serve,” she said. “Some of these people were real serious about it, and they were dressed to the nines. We really appreciate the volunteers and how they help with these activities.”

Keane said that JABA has a lot of volunteers from Madison House, but she said many of Wednesday’s volunteers are part of the “sandwich generation,” which has children and parents who both require a degree of care.

“They give their time and effort to us, and maybe we can open their eyes as to what we can provide to them,” she said.

“I enjoy helping other people,” said Debbie Best, an administrative assistant at the Woodson Institute, who was making popcorn with Tammy Wilmott at the carnival. “I enjoy being around people.”

Wilmott, an executive secretary with the Upward Bound program, said volunteering for the Day of Caring was a good way to give back to the community.

“You get to give something to someone else,” she said. “Here we are working with the young children and the elderly.”

U.Va. volunteers also staged a carnival of a grand sort at WorkSource Enterprises, a private not-for-profit organization that provides job training and employment opportunities to people with disabilities.

About 70 University employees from Human Resources, the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, the University Bookstore and Upward Bound staged a carnival for WorkSource’s clients, setting up tents, games and activities and a performance by the Cavalier Marching Band.

“We had about 70 volunteers and 30 members of the marching band,” said Dave Ripley, a director in the Human Resources Department. “The clients and the people who work at WorkSource seem to enjoy it.”

Rauzelle Smith, a senior analyst at Human Resources, said things have gotten well organized over the years.

“I am impressed at how well the team can assemble and disassemble the operation,” he said. “This a great opportunity to give back to the community and help those less fortunate.”

Smith and Ripley said that the WorkSource clients were happy with the carnival.

“They give us hugs,” Ripley said. “We see the people smile and working in HR, that’s not something you see every day.”

Richard Minturn, a senior academic facilities planner in the provost’s office, said his colleagues were pleased to work with HR on the Day of Caring.

“This is the biggest single community service contribution we get to do,” he said, “and we’re tired when we get done.”

Many community groups rely on the volunteers and plan for them a long time ahead.

“The day after they leave, we start thinking, ‘What can they do next year?,’” Syme said.

­– by Lauren Jones and Matt Kelly

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