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United Way Day of Caring, Thursday.

Volunteers from Indiana Michigan Power help out at the Early Childhood Alliance.

Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
I&M volunteers Jennifer Clark, top, and Sara Maxwell clean windows at the Early Childhood Alliance downtown site at 516 E. Wayne St. as part of the 21st annual United Way Day of Caring on Thursday.
United Way day of caring

Volunteers touching lives

Volunteers from ResCare sort through food at the Associated Churches food bank that was donated to the Stamp Out Hunger food drive.
Todd Klinedinst, with the Lutheran Health Network, volunteered his time to mop the warehouse floor at the Mustard Seed Furniture Bank.

Dressed in brightly colored T-shirts, more than 1,000 volunteers representing 55 local organizations took to the streets Thursday to help others during the 21st annual United Way Day of Caring.

After a kickoff breakfast at Headwaters Park, volunteers dispersed and completed 70 projects for nonprofit agencies, individuals, child-care centers and schools.

The event, sponsored by NIPSCO, was a way to impact the community, said Todd Stephenson, president and CEO of United Way of Allen County.

“Day of Caring is one of the ways we bring groups together to make a difference for each other and for the community as a whole,” Stephenson said.

Helping future generations

Several Early Childhood Alliance child-care centers benefited from volunteer efforts, including the center on Beacon Street.

Parkview Hospital employees cleaned toys, repaired cots and readied classrooms for fall enrollment.

Another crew installed a basketball court in the outside play area.

At the Early Childhood Alliance centers on East Wayne Street and Fairfield Avenue, crews from the Fort Wayne division of Indiana Michigan Power landscaped, painted, washed windows and power-washed the buildings.

Team leader Brian Konger and his wife, Shari, spent the day with 23 of their co-workers working at the Wayne Street location while another 10 I&M volunteers worked at the Fairfield center.

Konger has volunteered for the Day of Caring seven of the eight years he has worked for the company.

He had no trouble finding co-workers who were willing to lend a hand.

Konger sent out a memo on the intercompany network asking for volunteers and was surprised and delighted at the response

“Like other companies, we were experiencing some cutbacks,” Konger said, “so I had no idea what to expect.”

But more people responded than expected and Konger actually ended up with too many volunteers, he said. Volunteers included hard-hat workers along with members of the Indiana Michigan Power executive team, Konger said.

“We had a very good turnout,” Konger said.

Sherry Janek, longtime director of the child-care center, was thrilled with the volunteers’ efforts.

“We have been lucky to be a recipient every year,” Janek said. “Just power-washing the building saves us time (searching for volunteers) and money. It would be a huge expense for us.”

Janek said the center looks forward to the Day of Caring and maps out projects for the volunteers in advance.

“This year they built our toddlers a new sandbox,” Janek said. “Last year it was a bicycle riding bridge and the year before the crews put together a shed for us.”

“We really count on their help to maintain the building and grounds,” she said.

Improving morale and climate

Meanwhile, at Shawnee Middle School and Lincoln Elementary School – located across from one another on East Cook Road – several crews from Vera Bradley painted parking lot curbs and the facade of the building while others landscaped and mulched.

Others on the Vera Bradley crew of 35 painted a mural inside the middle school and erected a hand-painted map of the United States on the playground of the elementary school.

Team leader Larissa Brown said she and her co-workers look forward to the United Way event.

“I love this day,” Brown said. “Employees look forward to it – it’s a paid day off and we get to work together for the betterment of the community.”

Matt Meier, an employee of Vera Bradley, brought along and his wife, Lauri, a nurse practitioner at Dupont Hospital, to work with the outside crews at the schools.

“My wife does a lot of volunteer work and convinced me it was a good idea,” said Meier, who has participated in the Day of Caring for the past three years.

The event positively influences the morale and climate in the school, said Matt Schiebel, principal of Shawnee Middle School.

After the Vera Bradley crews painted the outside portico in “Shawnee blue,” it changed the cold and uninviting entrance to a welcoming and school-spirited entryway, Schiebel said.

A mural that was painted in the student services hallway was great because it covered a large, white space while emphasizing the school motto, “Braves are ready, responsible, and respectful,” he said.

Organization and support

Bonnie Hanson, chief operating officer at Dupont Hospital, headed up a team to help at the Mustard Seed Furniture Bank on Illinois Road.

About 25 Lutheran Health Network employees restocked, organized and cleaned the interior of the large warehouse and offices, Hanson said.

The Mustard Seed, which opened in 2002, provides household furnishings to families and individuals who need help rebuilding their lives after suffering disaster, personal tragedy or other catastrophic misfortunes.

Hanson is on the Mustard Seed board of directors and the agency has a special place in her heart.

“It’s an amazing thing to see someone who’s lost everything in a house fire or someone who is homeless get everything they need to get started again,” Hanson said.

The United Way’s Day of Caring allows volunteers to touch lives, Hanson said.

Andre Weaver, an employee of Mustard Seed, manages the large warehouse where furniture, linens and bedding and kitchen items are stored.

“I’m on my own because we have a very small staff,” Weaver said.

“It was a tremendous help when the volunteers came and cleaned and organized the warehouse because I don’t have time,” Weaver said.

“We are very, very appreciative.”