United Way preps for 21st annual service project event

For more than two decades, United Way of Central Carolinas’ annual Day of Caring has reached out to thousands of individuals and organizations in Union County.

Volunteers work at a project site during last year’s United Way Day of Caring. The 21st annual event takes place Aug. 24, and organizers expect to send more than 1,400 volunteers to more than 100 project sites countywide.

Volunteers work at a project site during last year’s United Way Day of Caring. The 21st annual event takes place Aug. 24, and organizers expect to send more than 1,400 volunteers to more than 100 project sites countywide.

Now in its 21st year, United Way Day of Caring will return on Aug. 24, and organizers are hoping for another record-breaking turnout.

“We anticipate over 1,400,” which is how many volunteers participated last year, said Richard Heins, regional vice president of United Way of Central Carolinas. “The year before we had 1,200 to 1,300. We hope to surpass last year’s number (of volunteers).”

United Way Day of Caring encourages community members to lend a helping hand to “friends and neighbors in need.” Individual volunteers, families, churches, civic groups, businesses and other organizations join together each year for various service projects throughout the county.

The event kicks off at 7:30 a.m. at Wingate University each year. The more than 1,000 volunteers gather at the school’s football stadium for
instructions and then disperse to their assigned project sites. Volunteers typically work until around noon.

In the past, projects have included yard work for senior citizens, people with disabilities and veterans; helping local nonprofit child care centers; volunteering at United Way agencies; and doing work at local schools. Most of the projects are outdoors, Heins said, and many consist of basic landscaping work like cutting grass, trimming bushes and raking yards.

“It’s just a way for volunteers (and) people in the community to give back to folks who are in need,” Heins said.

United Way turns to partner agencies, such as the Union County Council on Aging, to identify potential project sites. The organization then begins getting the word out to the community, reaching out to repeat volunteers and recruiting some new ones.

After the volunteer registration deadline has passed, United Way begins choosing project sites. Jobs must include tasks volunteers can complete within an approximately four-hour window. Projects like re-roofing and expanding or adding onto houses aren’t options for the Day of Caring.

“Sometimes we’re limited because the project is too big to handle,” Heins said.

United Way chooses the number of projects based on the number of people who sign up to volunteer and pre-assigns teams to specific sites. Teams were sent to 129 project sites last year. Groups receive their assignments in advance so they can be prepared.

Heins said he always hears overwhelmingly positive feedback on Day of Caring, both from volunteers and the individuals or organizations being served.

“The feedback is phenomenal,” he said. “People email and call and say, ‘That was such a great day. I got so much more, I feel so much better because I tried to help somebody.’ They feel rewarded.”

He added clients “call and say the team was the nicest team … We get a lot of positive response from those individuals.”

Sometimes, clients and teams develop special relationships in which the volunteers return to the client’s house multiple times throughout the year to help with various tasks, Heins said.

Volunteers “really form a very positive relationship with the individual,” he said. “It’s one of the most rewarding experiences they will have … one of those memories that will last a lifetime.”

There’s still time to get involved.

United Way Day of Caring takes place Aug. 24, a Saturday. The deadline to register is Friday, July 26. For more information, or to sign up to participate, call 704-283-1537.

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