Volunteers needed for United Way's annual Day of Caring

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BENNINGTON — Community engagement is a cornerstone of the global non-profit United Way, and the local chapter of the organization hopes to get volunteers engaged with the Bennington community for their annual Day of Caring on Sept. 23.

Though the organization inauspiciously vanished from the area in 2013, it returned two years later as a branch of United Ways of Vermont under the leadership of local resident Kayla Becker.

"We really focus on health, education, and financial stability in the community to support programs that are already running," said Becker. "We do a lot of convening and help community efforts communicate with each other to avoid duplication, and to help them work together more effectively."

This will be the third Day of Caring hosted by the local branch of United Way, sponsored by the national organization each September.

"When we came back to the area in 2015 one of the first things we decided to do was the Day of Caring," said Becker. "I think it really demonstrates the power of community coming together, having one day where everyone is doing something to help local organizations."

In past years, the Day of Caring has brought out up to 60 volunteers to sites like Habitat for Humanity, the Center for Restorative Justice, and Bennington's River Walk. This Saturday, community volunteers will come together from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to bring awareness and support to local nonprofits and community agencies.

"Each site can pick what they need done," said Becker, noting that projects vary from yard work, trail clearing, painting, cleaning, sorting, and organizing. "This year we'll be doing a lot of yard work with the change of the seasons, we'll be helping Sunrise [Family Resource Center] clear out their garden beds, and Bennington Project Independence needs the flooring cleaned and refinished."

This year's Day of Service will benefit a plethora of organizations working within the Bennington community including Oak Hill Early Childhood Center, the Bennington Free Library, and Grace Christian School among others.

"It really demonstrates United Way's whole mission in a nutshell," said Becker. "It shows that these volunteers appreciate what so many nonprofit organizations give to our community day in and day out."

"It's a huge benefit, especially for non-profits," said Alyson Grzyb, co-director of the Bennington Early Childhood Center, which will welcome United Way volunteers for this year's Day of Caring. "We don't have a ton of money to spend on things like landscaping and clean up, yet we want to do those things and keep our facility looking nice."

That volunteer effort can benefit local organizations not just by providing them with a volunteer service, but also by raising awareness for their efforts.

"Community volunteers help us, but it also helps them to stay more connected to us and other organizations in the community," said Grzyb. "We're really excited for this year; we hope a lot of volunteers come out."

Organizations like the Alliance for Community Transformation, Southern Vermont College, and The Seedlings Program have also rallied teams of volunteers for this years event, though more are needed.

While participants give their time for the Day of Caring, they will be thanked with breakfast and coffee at the beginning of the day, a t-shirt, and Ben & Jerry's once the work is finished. With groups of 5 to 15 volunteers per site, some degree of community bonding can also be expected according to Becker.

"It really shows the amazing impact of giving your time; a lot can be accomplished when you're working together," said Becker. "I love the awareness it brings to local organizations and their efforts, but working alongside people you may or may not know really builds the feeling of community as well."

Though Bennington's Day of Caring is only in its third year, Becker hopes that the event can eventually grow to match others in our state and across the country.

"In Windham County, for example, their Day of Caring has about 200 volunteers come out," said Becker. "The idea is that in the future, people will look forward to this event every year."

Those interested in volunteering can register online, and select which site they would like to work at. Businesses and organizations are encouraged to gather a team of volunteers.

For more information, or to register, visit www.unitedwaysvtbennington.org/dayofcaring17.

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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