Day of Action 2017
by Matthew Wisla, University of Alabama Advertising + Public Relations Instructor
The Day of Action harnesses the efforts of hundreds of volunteers willing to roll up their sleeves for one day each year to make a positive impact working at schools and nonprofits across the Tuscaloosa community. This year’s event on June 16 featured more than 400 volunteers pitching in with hammers, brooms, paint brushes and elbow grease at 29 locations. Projects included light office work, landscaping, painting, cleaning and organizing, and much more. The event is sponsored annually by the United Way of West Alabama.
Helping others is always in season, even when the help that’s needed may not be in synch with the calendar. It may seem odd to see people wrapping Christmas gifts in June, but not at Wings of Grace, where Christmas spans three weeks. The Tuscaloosa relief agency receives donations of food, toiletries, clothing – and toys – year-round in its mission to meet the needs of people in Tuscaloosa and the surrounding area, sometimes as far away as Hale County.
During the Day of Action, 15 volunteers from Southland Benefit Solutions wrapped gifts, packed toiletry bags and prepared food bags for distribution. Some volunteers helped unload a haul of more than 15 bicycles that had been donated to Wings of Grace.
“About 103 families received food bags (yesterday), and more than 100 came through today,” said Terri Hibbard, executive director of Wings of Grace. “And it’s a good time, because we were running out of food.”
It’s not unusual during the Day of Action for a company or organization to deploy multiple teams of volunteers to sites around the community. This year, one team from Randall-Reilly helped paint and work on the grounds of Holt Elementary while another group sorted and organized donations at the Tuscaloosa Salvation Army Thrift store. In the meantime, the University of Alabama’s Capstone International Center fielded five teams. Megan Wagner, coordinator of Capstone International, began organizing Day of Action volunteers last year. More than 35 total faculty, staff and students, including directors and an associate provost, volunteered this year.
One of the groups from UA’s Capstone International Center spent the afternoon volunteering at Temporary Emergency Services where they straightened and organized merchandise on the retail floor, as well as pricing and organizing donations in the stockroom.
While grouping and organizing items among the clothing aisles, volunteer Wendy Grof wore a big smile herself and said, “Everyone here is so nice, it makes being here really fun.”
Another volunteer, Venkuthesh Veeraraghavan who recently moved to Tuscaloosa to begin a post-doctoral residence, knows first-hand what a valuable resource Temporary Emergency Services is to the community. “When I moved here two months ago, I bought all my furniture at this place,” he said.
Temporary Emergency Services has been an agency of the United Way of West Alabama since 1968 and was named the Homer Butler Jr. Agency of the Year for 2016.
Over the summer, many Tuscaloosa businesses feel the absence of college students, but the youthful energy and love for animals is particularly lost on the Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter. The shelter relies heavily on student volunteers to wash dishes, do laundry and clean kennels to help keep the shelter running.
On the Day of Action, another group from UA’s Capstone International volunteers spent the afternoon cleaning up the grounds, as well as washing and walking the dogs.
“These dogs need to be out of these cages and socialized to be more adoptable,” said Mary Calhoun, volunteer coordinator for the shelter. “Today’s volunteers have made a huge difference.”
Megan Wagner, coordinator of Capstone International, began organizing Day of Action volunteers last year. More than 35 total faculty, staff and students, including directors and an associate provost, volunteered this year.
Volunteers also benefit from the experience of working closely with a nonprofit. “I’d never been to an animal shelter before, and I can’t believe the need and the amount of volunteer power it takes to keep it going,” Wagner said. “So not only is this day of service exposing me to all that united way does, but all of our faculty, staff and students are learning.”
This was the fourth year that a group of volunteers from Nucor Steel Tuscaloosa participated in the Day of Action by improving the grounds at The Arc. Chris Brubeck, Maintenance Engineering Manager, has 17 years in at Nucor and coordinated the group’s efforts throughout the afternoon. He said every year they assess The Arc’s most pressing landscaping projects and “come out and just get it taken care of.”
A crew of about 20 Nucor employees removed dead tree limbs, improved drainage, spread mulch and removed debris, some of which they believe dated back to the tornado in 2011. To get the heaviest work done, the volunteers operated equipment donated by R&M Equipment Company, including a 60-foot man lift, dump truck, backhoe and mini-excavator.
Terri Hibbard from Wings of Grace summed up the United Way of West Alabama’s mission and the spirit of the Day of Action volunteers when she said, “We connect with churches and other agencies, like United Way, and throughout the whole community. We’re all working together to serve people in need.”