Thea and Candy of J.Jill Corporation stepped outside their normal job description when they volunteered to help the Laconia Conservation Commission remove invasive bittersweet and Japanese barberry from a boat launch and natural area off Water Street in Laconia as part of the United Way Day of Caring. (Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
September 26, 2012REGION — From bankers to insurance agents, engineers to construction and factory workers, secretaries to hospital staff members and people from all other walks of life, Sept. 21 was a day when they all gathered together with the Lakes Region United Way to lend their efforts toward nonprofit agencies who benefit the people in Central New Hampshire.
At 8 a.m. last Friday, a roomful of volunteers met at Sacred Heart School in Laconia for a breakfast buffet and received their assignments for the day, as still others gathered in Plymouth. Before heading out, however, they heard from leaders of the United Way and their annual Day of Caring volunteer staff, who thanked and encouraged everyone.
"I'm in awe of all of you," said Cindy Bodah, this year's team chair from Bank of New Hampshire. "Thank you for giving your time, and most of all, thank you for giving your heart."
Pam Paquette, chairman for the 2012 Day of Caring, said she was grateful for the volunteers and their employers who allowed them to give of their time. She said she looked forward to hearing of their experiences later that afternoon during a wrap-up celebration at Patrick's Pub in Gilford.
"At the end of the day, you'll all have a better understanding as to what these nonprofits do for this beautiful region of New Hampshire," she said.
Paquette noted there were nine towns and 65 projects encompassed in the day's labor, and more than 170 people had volunteered their time and effort to help get that work done.
AutoServ of Tilton sent ten volunteers to the Day of Caring who were eager to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Split between a few different locations, they heard about the needs of Carey House, a shelter for men, women and families, as well as the work of the Salvation Army next door.
Captain Steve Warren, who runs the Laconia Salvation Army organization, told his group of volunteers from 3M, Melcher and Prescott Insurance, AutoServ and other businesses, that his organization is a very busy group of members and volunteers all year long.
Servicing 50,000 to 60,000 people, Warren said that everyone who walks through the door of his building is greeted by a "plethora" of services available to them. The center offers a food pantry, which despite its small size, fed 12,000 individuals last year, provided financial assistance to 1,700 people, and fed an average of 55 people a week for lunch from Tuesdays through Sundays.
"We just couldn't function without our volunteers," said Warren.
On the Day of Caring, the men and women who signed on for the venture at the Salvation Army and Carey House helped with paint and repairs to the pantry, worked on freshening hallways with paint, buffed flooring and much more. They also weeded and repaired playground equipment at Carey House, and tended to flower beds and fencing at the facility, which is the Lakes Region's only homeless shelter.
Across town, on the shores of Lake Winnisquam, the Laconia Conservation Commission led another crew of volunteers out along the point off Water Street to clear invasive plants from the woods and waterfront, and pick up litter they found as the area was cleared.
Hillary May of the commission said bittersweet and Japanese barberry were the biggest offenders, choking out native growth.
"They were ornamental plants that were brought here, and have completely taken over. We're trying to open this up for growth of native plants and possibly develop a park here in the future," May said.
Petal Pushers Nursery in Laconia offered to take the twisted vines that were pulled out of the trees and ripped from the shore, to burn them and prevent their spread to other areas.
"People like to cut bittersweet for Christmas decorations, but actually, it's toxic to birds and we need to dispose of it properly as soon as we can," said May.
Employees of Liberty Utilities, J.Jill, Lakes Region Rotary Club and AFL Noyes were all busy snipping, pulling and untangling the noxious vines from the trees and shrubs as their way of giving back to the community.
Chris Moulton, an engineer with AFL Noyes, said this was his fourth year of participation in the Day of Caring and he particularly liked the outdoor jobs, a far cry from his own daily routine at a desk.
"I can see where we've made a huge change already in the way this looks," he said.
For Sandra Berry of Bank of New Hampshire and her day's work partner, Nancy Walker of Lakes Region General Hospital, the volunteerism really hit home. Cleaning and organizing a large storage closet at the Belmont Senior Center, they said, was not only was important as an assistance to the agency, but the meaningful for them as well.
"I've made so many new friends, and am learning so much about all they do here at the senior center that this is really a plus for me, too," Walker said.
Berry agreed, saying her bank encourages any type of volunteer work the employees would like to get involved in, and when she first learned of the United Way's Day of Caring, she had to jump on board.
"This is my fourth year," said Berry. "It's just so organized, and so helpful to these nonprofits. I had to lend them my support."
And the nonprofits said they are just as grateful for the help. Senior Center director Brenda Fortier said with no internal resources to assist with cleaning and other necessary projects, the volunteer hours of those who come to her center are a huge benefit.
"If we didn't have volunteers here, like these women today and (those who help throughout the year), we'd be sunk," Fortier said.
Other projects in the region included scraping and painting many buildings, closing up the facilities of Camp Mayhew in Bristol, exterior jobs at the Chapman Sanctuary & VISNY Woods in Sandwich, painting and yard work at the Inter-Lakes Daycare in Meredith and efforts to restore artifacts for the Alexandria Historical Society. Some teams even distributed programs and public health information throughout Belknap County for the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health, or washed signs and dug a drainage ditch for the Loon Preservation Committee in Moultonboro.
No matter what the task was, they all made a difference.
This year's targeted revenue for Lakes Region United way is $1,250,000 and they would like to remind those who live, work and play here in central New Hampshire that it is they who can make that number a reality.
For ways to donate to the Lakes Region United Way, please check your local place of employment to see if they have launched a fundraising campaign or call 524-6864 for more information.