Caring about community

Caring about community

Volunteers, businesses kick off United Way fund-raiser by helping the neediestDavid Zerbe loaded old sand into a wheelbarrow and then steered it off to dump it in the garbage. Fresh sand would be poured in after the sandbox was empty and clean.

It was one of three projects (the others were stenciling in the bedrooms and planting tulips) planned to spruce up the Children's Shelter, one of five agencies participating in United Way of Missoula County's "Day of Caring."

Volunteers from various businesses also worked on projects Tuesday morning for Meals on Wheels, the Food Bank of Missoula, Opportunity Resources and the YWCA Transitional Housing project.

The event was part of a United Way kickoff to raise $1 million this year.

"We wanted to do some innovative and useful things to make a difference," said Judy Wing, executive director of United Way.

"We're hoping to build a really strong partnership between businesses and agencies," she added. "This helps in terms of business people getting in and understanding what these agencies look like and who they serve."

That worked for Zerbe, a physician's services administrator for Community Medical Center. Zerbe said he wanted to put a visual image and a few faces to the contributions he makes to United Way.

"I can tell the staff to contribute but if I volunteer my time. … Time is as precious as money," he said. "So I took a half-day off and came here to volunteer."

"I'm impressed with what they do, working with children," he said.

Extended Family Services Inc.'s Children's Shelter tries to keep life there structured, fun and nurturing for the children, who may suffer from abuse, neglect, abandonment or a family breakdown.

The shelter is at capacity right now, caring for 12 children aged 5 to 13.

"We try to provide a home with a nurturing and predictable environment because they have such chaos," said Fran Maronick, executive director of the shelter.

"They cleaned their rooms and fish bowls," a slightly surprised Maronick said.

The bedrooms with their bare walls were so plain. It is difficult, Maronick said, to keep things on the walls since tape won't hold and pins won't penetrate. So the stencils - fish in one room, plants in another and stars and hearts in a third - should brighten the rooms.

Outside in the playground, old wood chips were replaced with fresh, new ones. Wood edgings were stained and tulips planted along the edge of the fence.

And the sandbox was cleaned of residue left by neighboring cats.

"My staff is so busy with caring for the children," Maronick said. "Our housekeeper is busy with day-to-day duties. We truly require a group such as these volunteers to get stuff done."

All supplies for the shelter, ranging from paints to chips, were donated by area businesses.

Over at the YWCA Transitional housing, volunteers from St. Patrick Hospital had time only to sand and paint one side of each of two homes owned by YWCA.

Transitional housing provides homes for highly motivated women with and without children. Ninety-five percent of the women come from backgrounds with domestic violence and a good percentage suffered sexual abuse as children, said Dodi Moquin, coordinator of the transitional housing and self-sufficiency program.

"I see myself as their number one cheerleader," she said.

At the moment, 30 women are waiting for an empty home. The average waiting list is 10-15.

"So much needs to be done," Moquin said.

Wing hopes United Way will make the "Day of Caring" a tradition. "It's a nice thing to do," she said.

Additional volunteers came from Stone Container (helping with Meals on Wheels), Columbia Paint (the Food Bank) and ShopKo (Opportunity Resources).

"Little stuff like this can make a big difference to them," said Jennifer Swartz, a department manager for Wal-Mart while she painted a fish stencil in a shelter bedroom.

"It's been a great day," added her work partner, Heather Travis.

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