United Way’s Day Of Caring Celebrates Twenty Years In Thurston County



By Jennifer Crain

Heritage Bank employees Jessica Chavira, Jenny Vanlaanen and Jami Hanson clear weeds at SideWalk Advocacy and Support Center as part of the Day of Caring on Friday. Photo by Jennifer Crain.

A group of eight GroupHealth employees spent last Friday with staff from Community Youth Services at a transitional housing apartment complex in Olympia. The employees each took a day of vacation to help clear the community vegetable beds, harvesting the last of the tomatoes and removing dead plants. They also weeded and tackled other landscaping projects to improve the outside appearance of the building and help further the nonprofit’s vision for helping residents build community through group tasks such as gardening and cooking.

Down the road, Heritage Bank employees worked the ground along the fence line and the side of the house at SideWalk Advocacy and Support Center, the year-old service and referral agency for homeless adults. The volunteer group worked alongside staff from the nonprofit organization, pickaxing the ground, pulling weeds and building raised beds for what will become a backyard herb garden. The beds will hold donated plants, including strawberries, irises, ferns and barberry. They will beautify the space, says SideWalk’s Operations Manager Jill Esbeck, but they’ll also be used in future Olympia Free Herbal Clinic workshops to teach clients how to make their own balms and teas.

These are just two examples of projects that took place on Friday for the United Way of Thurston County’s 20th annual Day of Caring, the nonprofit’s signature volunteer event. About 500 volunteers from corporate groups, government offices and service organizations came out to 49 project sites to paint, weed, landscape, sort books, deep clean, fix and build to help nonprofit organizations and the residents they serve.

Volunteers assembled by City of Olympia employees gather to paint and install new lighting in the parking area at First Christian Church in downtown Olympia. Photo by Jennifer Crain.

“On the day you really feel the energy,” says United Way Executive Director, Paul Knox. “Across the county there are 49 clusters of people out doing things to help nonprofits and to help the community. It’s pretty amazing.”

That energy was palpable at First Christian Church in Olympia. Paint rollers in hand, a group of volunteers organized by City of Olympia employees brightened up the building’s parking area. According to the group’s team leader, Anna Schlecht, about 40 volunteers contributed to the facelift, which included a coat of white paint and new lighting. The project was unusual, bringing together City of Olympia employees, including law enforcement, with volunteers from the nonprofit Family Support Center, Evergreen students and First Christian church members as well as seven Camp Quixote residents, who camp in the parking space beneath the church building once a year.

“We put together this volunteer project as a way to say thank you to the church for supporting homeless people through all of the different homeless shelters they host and as a way to provide a safer, brighter place for the homeless people that camp here,” Schlecht says. “We also did it as a partnership with local law enforcement.  By painting it white and improving the lights, the line of sight is going to be greatly improved.”

Ronnie Roberts, Olympia’s Chief of Police, was one of the volunteers.

“With more lighting and a little brighter area it makes people feel safer,” he says. “And frankly, visually, it’s going to be such a great improvement. I’m really pleased to be a part of this project. It’s a great example of a lot of different people working together to make something better.”

Community Youth Services staff members Lynsi Polanco and Kadi Townsend take a break from preparing vegetable beds outside the organization's transitional housing unit with GroupHealth employee and volunteer team leader, Melissa Brown (right). Photo by Jennifer Crain.

His sentiment captures the overall feeling of the countywide event. Megan Hawthorne, the Day of Caring coordinator, says the event is locally generated every year. The event’s sponsors are local and both volunteer teams and recipient groups come from Thurston County. This year, seven downtown businesses even offered discounts to volunteers on the day of the event.

The United Way partnered with Evergreen State College’s Center for Community Based Learning and Action, who organized ten of the 49 sites as part of their new student orientation. Hawthorne says this year’s event was larger than previous years, with ten more work sites and 100 more volunteers.

Such a large pool of volunteers means diverse groups end up working together. This was the case at Radio Ranch, the home base for the CIELO Project, where volunteers from GHB insurance and students from Evergreen gathered to paint a building on the property and tackle other jobs, such as pruning back an unruly swath of English Ivy.

The CIELO Project provides counseling services, entrepreneur training and Spanish literacy for the Latino community on the four-acre property, tucked behind the watershed in northeast Olympia.

Gathering diverse groups is in line with CIELO’s vision, says director Denise Lynch, “We like to think of ourselves as a community center so whenever we have people volunteering here we try to help them understand the community connection. What they’re doing is really benefitting this place and supporting less fortunate people in their community.”

GHB Insurance employee Dan Walker gets started on painting at the 20th annual Day of Caring on Friday. Walker was working at Radio Ranch, home base for the CIELO Project. Photo by Jennifer Crain.

The United Way says that thousands of Thurston County residents will be helped as a result of this year’s Day of Caring, such as tenants of homes that have been improved, children who will receive backpacks full of healthy foods, students who need a leg up and families that will have access to fresh local produce.

That’s a great way to celebrate twenty years of service.

To view more photos from United Way’s Day of Caring, click here.

United Way of Thurston County

Evergreen State College – Community to Community Event

Print Friendly, PDF & Email