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Day of Caring connects volunteers across Longmont, Boulder

By Carah Wertheimer

Ashley Bailey cleans the windows of the humane society. A team ofvolunteers work on the Longmont Humane Society on Friday. Three groups of volunteers from IBM, 39 in all, are participating in the Foothills United Way annual Day of Caring, the largest mass volunteer day in Boulder County. 

Tony Stoughton joins other volunteers painting the interior of the humane society. A team of volunteers work on the Longmont Humane Society on Friday. Three groups of volunteers from IBM, 39 in all, are participating in the Foothills United Way annual Day of Caring, the largest mass volunteer day in ...

On Friday morning, instead of dressing for success, Kris Hess dressed for a mess.

The Medtronic engineer spent four hours on his hands and knees weeding and cleaning the dog play and agility yards at the Longmont Humane Society as part of Foothills United Way's 22nd annual Day of Caring.

"It's been going fantastic. Did dog runs on the other side, all the cleaning around and neutralizing. Feels good to get out and do something nice for the community," said Hess, of Nederland.

A cat owner, this is Hess' first year participating in Boulder and Broomfield County's largest one-day volunteer gathering.

The help is deeply appreciated.

"I've been weeding over there for a couple weeks. They (Medtronic of Boulder) were kind enough to send a whole crew over. They've been happy to do whatever it takes. Dog play yards aren't necessarily the most pleasant places to clean up," said Sara Todd, Longmont dental hygienist and Humane Society volunteer.

Humane Society executive director Liz Smokowski echoed the sentiment.

"I think what Foothills United Way is doing for the Longmont community and surrounding areas is priceless," Smokowski said.

"They (volunteers) say, 'Oh, this is so simple.' But to us, it's a big deal."

Edie Ortega, a retired telecom manager from Lafayette and a United Way board member, spent the morning checking on volunteers at four Longmont sites—the YMCA, Goodwill, TLC Learning Center and the Humane Society.

"People are realizing that just because a nonprofit exists, it doesn't mean that they can pay staff to do everything—they need volunteers to really make it work," Ortega said.

On a floor covered with drop cloths, Becky Morones—an advisory engineer with IBM back for her second year—was painting the walls. Morones got one of her three dogs at the shelter.

"I love the fact that IBM allows us to do this during our work hours. They're very supportive of having us participate in the Day of Caring," she said.

IBM has more than 90 volunteers participating at various locations, said Susan Bunic, IBM lead for the Day of Caring.

 Doug Yeiser, president and CEO of Foothills United Way, said that while families and individuals are welcome, the majority of participants are company teams.

"It's significant that so many companies in the area decide to get involved in the community, and give their employees time to participate," he said, adding that many businesses appreciate the team-building aspect.

United Way expected nearly 1,100 volunteers at 47 sites, at an estimated economic value of $111,000. Last year's estimated economic value was $94,878. The event is scheduled to coincide with the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance on Sunday.

"I think it's important that people realize that a single individual can do great things in their community. If they realize that their efforts make a difference, we hope that they'll continue to exercise their skills and talents. We want to inspire them to do more throughout the year," Yeiser said.

While many projects involve physical labor, Day of Caring has opportunities for everyone.

In a quiet second-floor conference room, a few women from IBM got the cleanest job of all—stuffing lime green tote bags with trinkets and T-shirts for participants in the Sept. 17 annual Paws in the Park 5K walk/run fundraiser.

"I've donated to them ... for years, figured I'd come out and help them," said Lynne Salinkas, IBM project manager.

"I just have one direction—don't come home with anyone," she said. Salinkas has two dogs at home in Lafayette.

Julie Phillips, United Way community resilience director, said that United Ways nationwide hold similar days of service under different names. "Our goal is really what our work is all year long ... when we all come together, we accomplish so much," she said.

"The importance of volunteering is twofold. It's the impact for the agencies —we're able to help them accomplish things that they rely on volunteers to do. It's valuable for the volunteers, because it's important for all of us to see how we can give back. It's a great way for us to learn about a new aspect of our community."

She added: "We hope that the volunteers that comeout see opportunities to continue to give back through volunteering."

At least at the Humane Society, that seems to be the case.

"We often get long-term volunteers out of these days," Smokowski said.

After the hard work, 700 volunteers were expected at Boulder's Gateway Park Fun Center for a free lunch and ice cream courtesy of Pasta Jay's and Ben and Jerry's, and of course, free rides!

"It's part of our way to say 'thank you' to the volunteers," Phillips said.

IBM,  the Daily Camera, and the Times-Call are all Day of Caring sponsors.