story and photos by Joel Rafkin
FORT SMITH — Perhaps a better name for the United Way of Fort Smith Area’s Day of Caring would be to call it the Widespread Day of Caring.
From morning till noon on Thursday (April 19), some 870 volunteers worked on 69 projects in the six counties of western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma served by the local United Way.
More than 300 volunteers attended an early morning breakfast, funded by corporate sponsors, at Golden Corral before beginning their work day, said Dee Long, resource development director for United Way of Fort Smith Area. Similar breakfasts events went on in Booneville and Ozark, and recognition lunches were held at Charleston and Ozark.
The volunteers then headed off to their projects, put forth by the 34 United Way partners, parks and other non-profit organizations in need of some sprucing up. Long said the efforts of the workers saved about $64,000 worth of labor costs for the agencies which, in turn, benefits those who rely on their services.
Many projects lasted three to four hours, but some extended into a full day. The bulk of the work was painting, general clean-up and yard work. Next Step Day Room in Fort Smith was one of the all-day endeavors, with volunteers assembling furniture and installing television brackets on walls.
Volunteers had their choice of projects but those who registered early had the best chance of being assigned their preference. All volunteers got a free lunch from the agency where they worked.
"Our communities need all the help that all of us working people [can give] — if we can find it in our hearts to give — it's good to give right now," said Long in reference to existing tough economic times. Recent business and industry closings put greater demands on non-profit organizations.
Long said United Way has raised $2.24 million of its $3 million goal for 2011. There is no hard deadline for the end of the annual campaign, and Long was optimistic that the goal is attainable.