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Days of Caring start this week

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By MEGAN JAMES

ADDISON COUNTY — Many local businesses will play a compassionate role in the community when they release their employees this Thursday and Saturday to build fences, paint walls, and clear trails for nonprofit agencies across the county.

The 11th annual Days of Caring, sponsored by the United Way of Addison County, will link 63 agencies dealing with health issues, poverty, childcare, and aging, to hundreds of local volunteers. Together they will work to keep the area’s human service organizations running smoothly.

“It is extremely important not only for individuals, but for businesses to learn about the nonprofits in their community, to gain insight into the services they provide,” said UWAC Co-director Helen Freismuth. “We want to create a more well-informed community.”

Although 152 volunteers have already signed up, the United Way still needs volunteers to help build wheelchair ramps, repair roofs and split and stack wood. Photographers are also needed to take pictures of the volunteers during the Days of Caring.

Anyone wanting to volunteer should call 388-7189. Those who cannot make the scheduled Days of Caring, but still wish to volunteer should contact the Volunteer Connection, a partner of UWAC, at 388-7044.

The event kicks off at 8 a.m. on Thursday with a breakfast at the American Legion in Middlebury. Sam and Cathy Trudel, co-chairs of the 2006 United Way fund-raising campaign, will announce the goal for the campaign, which will wrap up in February, and show a video highlighting the organization’s local work and the needs of the community.

Before volunteers pick up their paintbrushes and hammers on Thursday and Saturday morning, the staff at each agency will make an introduction to inform the volunteers of their organization’s work and their clients’ needs. Many volunteers will be new to the projects, but this should not discourage people from giving their time. Often volunteers return to agencies after the Days of Caring are over, offering their talents monthly or weekly.

“A relationship is created between Addison County’s businesses and nonprofits,” said Freismuth. “In as little as half a day of work, individuals can develop a personal commitment to human service in their community. Even two hours of work might inspire people to keep giving.”

One of the main activities this year will be driving for Meals on Wheels, which delivers lunches to seniors in Bridport, Vergennes, Orwell, Middlebury, and Bristol. Volunteers will accompany a seasoned driver, delivering food to their elderly and immobile neighbors and learning first-hand the importance of not just the food, but of the social contact.

More activities include trail maintenance on the Middlebury Area Land Trust’s Trail Around Middlebury, gardening in the New Haven community garden, and dismantling sets in the Middlebury Town Hall Theater. Clerical work is also available. For example, putting together volunteer manuals at WomenSafe, tasks that agencies need to complete but staff members don’t have the time to do.

For the first time this year, Middlebury College will give release time to its workers to volunteer during the Days of Caring. Many other businesses are contributing employees, Freismuth singled out some of the bigger ones, including Bread Loaf Corp., Country Home Products, Shaw’s Supermarket, Hannaford Supermarket, Goodrich Corp., and the Champlain Valley Unitarian Univeralist Society. The Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center and Job Corps will send student volunteers, as well.

After work is over on Thursday, Otter Creek Brewery will hold a private party for volunteers at its Exchange Street plant in Middlebury. Ramunto’s Pizza will provide the food and the Snake Mountain Bluegrass Band will provide the music. 

“The activities serve as a teambuilding experience for staff, as well,” said Freismuth. “Volunteers say it is an eye-opening, satisfying, gratifying, feel-good day.”

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