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Volunteerism still alive and well in troubled times



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John Larson, Leah Smith and Jane Cote all lend a hand with some much-needed cleaning chores at the Belmont Senior Center during Friday's Day of Caring sponsored by the Lakes Region United Way. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
September 23, 2009
LAKES REGION — At 8 a.m. on Sept. 18 the gym at Sacred Heart School in Laconia was a hub of activity as 160 volunteers from all walks of life poured into the gym for a breakfast, their day's assignments and a quick pep talk. Their mission was to spend a "Day of Caring" for the United Way as they performed tasks for non-profit organizations from Alton to Plymouth.

United Way President Jack Terrill greeted the early morning crowd and thanked both volunteers and the companies they work for in allowing them the time away from their jobs to help others.

"You guys are going to accomplish a ton of stuff today," he said. "That's important, and it will make a ton of difference in the community."

When the day was over, though, he reminded everyone, the work for United Way would still not be done.

"We've still got to go out and raise over five million dollars," he said of his organization's annual fundraising campaign. "We need to turn this into a positive in light of the negative out there from the economy."

He thanked and congratulated companies such as Pike Indutries who, despite the recession, has increased its donation this year by 18 percent. Terrill challenged other companies to do the same.

Tasks for the day varied from landscaping projects to clean-ups, mailings, daycare assistance and even help in making blankets at Baby Threads in Laconia. Camp Mayhew in Bristol needed help closing their Newfound Lake island camp for troubled youth for the winter, and the Inter-lakes Senior Center asked for assistance with their Open House celebration. Whatever the chore, United Way provided people willing to give a day to help them. Local businesses also chipped in by donating food or materials necessary for some of the projects.

Co-chair for the event, Cindy Hemeon-Plessner from Meredith Village Savings Bank, was pleased with the turn-out in her first year of assisting seasoned chairman Pam Paquette.

"It's incredible that you've all taken time off from your work to help your community today," said Hemeon-Plessner.

She joked that she did, however, fear for those co-workers left to run the businesses with so many of them absent for the day.

One organization that benefited from the extra manpower was the Belmont Senior Center in the Mill building of Belmont Village. Director Brenda Fortier was most grateful to have three helpers to straighten her facility and spruce things up a bit.

"There's only three of us at the center," she explained. "One drives the van and the other works 20 hours a week. We could just use a hand getting some of the deep cleaning and organizing done that I don't always have time to do."

An employee from Lakes Region Community Services, Jane Cote, along with Leah Smith of the Taylor Community and resident of the Taylor Community, John Larson, headed out to the senior center and got right to work. A refrigerator was cleaned, a walk-in closet was emptied and they set to the chore of sorting the items with Fortier.

Two large containers had been set up outside; one for trash, one for recycling. Another pile was made for useful items to be donated, all of which Cote then loaded in her car to deliver to St. Vincent's in Laconia. She said that many of her clients at LRCS assist at the senior center year round and she was glad to have a chance to help out herself for the third year.

"They're the real volunteers though," she said of her clients.

Smith was using her day off to participate and was proud to say several fellow employees, as well as other residents like Larson, were all taking part in the day, too.

"There's probably a dozen of us out helping today," she said. "They're all in different places working."

Up in Alexandria employees of the Inn and Spa at Mill Falls in Meredith were outside the Hayne's Historical Society to do some raking, weeding, pruning and planting. Natalie Cournoyer and Martha Zyler were two of the eight employees from the resort who signed up for a work detail.

"We do this every year," said Cournoyer. "United Way is our company's charity of choice."

She and her co-workers have deductions taken from their checks each week to help United Way meet its yearly goal.

After a day of scraping, painting, planting or whatever the assigned task was, the volunteers were invited back to Patrick's Pub in Gilford where food and refreshments were available to them and gift certificates from local companies and businesses were awarded to some of the volunteers. Photos and a sense of pride in the day's accomplishments were shared before everyone headed back to their respective communities or back to work at their regular jobs.

For retiree John Larson, it was his first experience volunteering on Day of Caring. Emails were sent to residents in the Taylor Community, and he decided to pitch in. He said he is just that kind of guy.

"If I can give you a hand, I will," he said.

In all, 25 non-profit businesses and organizations were able to cross many chores off their "to-do" list, said United Way organizers, thanks to people like Larson and the many others who donated time and energy for the day.

Companies participating included Laconia Savings Bank; Franklin Savings Bank; Citizen Bank; Pike Industries; Public Service Company of New Hampshire; Metrocast; JJill; LRGHealthcare; Meredith Village Savings Bank; Greater Lakes Child Advocacy Center; Miracle Farms Landscaping; Northway Bank; Coldwell Banker Realty; Shaw's Laconia; Melcher & Prescott; Bank of America; Liberty Mutual; Bonnette, Page and Stone; Lakes Region Association and others.

Terrill said it was one of the largest groups yet to turn out for the 14th annual Day of Caring.

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