OTTUMWA — United Way Day of Caring is not only a national event, it also something United Way of Wapello County has participated in for years.
Each year residents give their time to serve at a number of nonprofit organizations in the community. They start the day each year with a pancake breakfast, hear a speech from the event organizer and split off into groups to volunteer at their project sites.
United Way of Wapello County Community Engagement Director Emma Kain said she put in lots of time and effort in order to make the event happen.
“There was some anxiety, just getting everything ready and wanting it to go well,” Kain said. “I went off the process that previous folks have done, and it worked really well. I’m happy with the process. It’s such a great team that we’ve got with United Way Staff and with Kiwanis helping us with pancakes.”
Kiwanis volunteers were happy to serve pancakes. For Andy Maw, it was his first time serving breakfast at United Way Day of Caring. Although he had a long day and had to go to his own job, he still chose to volunteer his time.
“We’re doing that for those coming out to do good deeds,” Maw said. “In our community we’re working and we’re supporting those helping out so it makes sense to do it.”
Maw appreciated seeing different volunteers of all ages, hoping they learn something about serving, whether they pursue it regularly or for the first time.
“We got a lot of young kids here, so it’s good for them to see how the community can benefit from this thing,” Maw said. “Hopefully when they get older they can remember this experience and ways to give back.”
Unlike Maw, Brenda Case, past president of the Hy-Noon Kiwanis, has served breakfast at Day of Caring for a number of years, choosing to serve each time.
“I choose to serve each time because I get to see people reach out and care for those less fortunate,” Case said. “It spurs civic responsibility. United Way rocks. They are great at bringing people together to volunteer.”
After Case served breakfast, she thought about the fact that this service event fell on the same day as 9/11. For her, it hit close to home.
“It benefits,” Case said. “It allows people to come together and make something beautiful out of something that was so tragic. I couldn’t stop what happened, but it’s wonderful to see that change.”
Like Case, volunteer Kayla Eckerman thought about the event merging with 9/11. “When people think of 9/11, they think of tragedy and always wanting to do something,” she said. “It brings people together; in the aftermath of 9/11 ,unity is what healed America and that’s what Day of Caring is doing, in a sense, in honor of 9/11.”
Many volunteers came from different organizations, varying in the numbers of years they volunteered on United Way Day of Caring. John Deere workers have been volunteering each year on Day of Caring, participating in different projects every year.
John Deere worker Robert Scott has been volunteering on United Way Day of Caring for a decade. This time he volunteered at Tenco working on landscaping. He never changed his reason for volunteering.
“We always have a big push for United Way and that campaign,” Scott said. “We try to put as many hours as we can afford into the community. It’s team building for us to get out and do things together.”
There were other John Deere workers at the Food Bank of Iowa who painted the interior of the building. Dwain Russell also volunteered for years and said coming to paint was perfect because of his years of experience in painting different buildings and organizing teams to paint.
When Rusell took a break from painting, he thought of what he hoped people took away. For him it centered around community and impact. “I hope they took away learning experiences and building relationships with others,” Rusell said, “networking and getting an opportunity to give the gift of love and care back.”
Unlike Scott and Russell, who have volunteered for several years, it was Eckerman’s first time volunteering at United Way Day of Caring. Normally she directs volunteers who choose to help out at the YMCA, so for her volunteering the day of the event was different.
“It’s more than manual labor,” Eckerman said, “that’s why I wanted to volunteer this year because I think it’s more about community organizations coming together to better each other and that’s something I can get behind.”
Eckerman helped out with a Sieda garden, painting benches and doing what needed to be done. Like Russell, Eckerman thought about what she hoped volunteers would think about United Way Day of Caring. “I hope they see the bigger picture of Day of Caring and get involved in the future,” she said.