Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
Volunteerism was on display throughout Perth and Huron counties on Wednesday during the local Day of Caring.
It was the first year the United Way initiative – which was established to promote volunteerism and increase awareness about the types of service agencies the United Way supports – was held locally.
Ryan Erb, United Way Perth-Huron executive director, said organizers were astonished with the response the first-time event received, noting over 65 volunteers participated, taking time out of their schedules to help various organizations with projects that, due to staffing, time and money constraints, might not have otherwise been completed.
“We thought we would start this pretty small this year and then build it over the next couple of years,” he noted. “But it was even bigger than we anticipated.”
The Day of Caring actually kicked off a day earlier on Tuesday when a group of participants in the Reach for Success program at the Centre for Employment and Learning spent time cleaning up garbage in the TJ Dolan Natural Area. People were also lending a hand at the Emily Murphy Centre and the Goderich YMCA, as well as assisting clients with Meals on Wheels and Family Services Perth-Huron.
On Wednesday at Stratford-Perth Shelterlink, the halls were bustling with activity as people worked on giving the homeless shelter a much-needed splash of colour.
A total of 22 rooms, including offices, bathrooms and bedrooms, were painted bright red, blue and purple.
“Now it’s so bright in here, it just feels awesome,” said Bev Hagedorn, the shelter’s executive director during a break from painting her office, adding the fresh coat of paint creates a more welcoming and hopeful environment for the nearly 100 youth who use the shelter’s services each year.
“I think it shows the kids that we care, and that’s often a surprise to them. When they see other people in the community coming in and donating these things and their own time, I think it kind of helps them understand there are lots of people who do care and do good things.”
Hagedorn said painting had been on the shelter’s wish list for a while, but was not something that it would have been able to do on its own.
“When funders give us money they don’t want us spending it on painting,” she noted. “We’re usually content with what we’ve got.”
It wasn’t until the project caught the attention of Dulux Paints that it became a reality.
As part of the company’s Let’s Colour program, in which Dulux is investing $1 million in paint towards community projects and non-profit organizations across Canada, Shelterlink was the recipient of over 50 gallons of paint and supplies – all donated by Dulux Paints in Stratford, which also supplied a team of painters.
“We wanted to make a big impact for the community,” said Karri Preston, who manages the Dulux store on Ontario Street, adding the shelter was a “good fit” for the program, which aims to help organizations that have little room in their budgets to spend on projects of this nature. “We know a lot of people outside in the community won’t see this. But the people here today definitely know what’s happened,” she added.
By moving its painting days back a week, the shelter was also able to partner with the United Way’s Day of Caring – and receive the volunteer support that was needed to finish the project quickly.
Other Day of Caring events included cleaning windows and toys at the Avon Co-operative Nursery School, preparing planter boxes at the soon-to-open Local Community Food Centre, cleaning up around the recreation centre in St. Marys and packing food hampers at the Huron County Food Bank.
According to Erb, the Day of Caring served two important purposes: it brought together volunteers with what they love doing, and helped to “connect the dots” between the United Way’s donors and the agencies they support.
“It makes a big difference for them to understand what’s happening,” he noted, “and they begin to realize the good work that’s happening in the community.”