More than 800 volunteers pitch in during United Way's Day of Caring -
Published Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 11:40 am
More than 800 volunteers pitch in during United Way's Day of Caring

Nikki Love and Kyanna Pierce sprayed the glass door, rubbed it until it sparkled, then gasped and started laughing.

The door had slammed shut. They were trapped outside, and it was a little chilly.

Marcus Brown came running. He wasn't about to lock them out. They were at the Omaha Street School on Friday morning as volunteers to clean from classroom to restroom.

The women were part of a team from the Goodwill Youth Build program that was participating in the United Way Day of Caring, an event that matches volunteers from Omaha businesses and other organizations with nonprofits that need workers.

The school has no custodian, said Brown, its volunteer and future focus coordinator.

That's why the work of volunteers is so important. Teams come to clean twice a month, and this time, it coincided with the United Way's yearly community outreach event.

Volunteers who clean and perform maintenance save the school about $100,000 a year, Brown said.

More than 800 volunteers participated in this year's Day of Caring, up from about 300 last year, said United Way spokeswoman Kathy O'Hara. They worked on 82 projects for 41 nonprofit agencies.

Unlike past years, United Way this year opened the event to nonprofits beyond its affiliates and sought volunteers from throughout the community, not just from companies that participate in its annual campaign.

The pairing of Youth Build and the Street School had a certain symmetry: The Goodwill program helps people ages 16 to 24 get their GEDs, learn a trade, cultivate professional behavior and find jobs, while the Street School is a nonprofit Christian-based high school for youths ages 14 to 19 who were not successful in traditional schools. Job skills are part of its curriculum.

The Goodwill youths scrubbed floors, mucked out toilets and even dusted the top of lockers amid posters that encouraged students to “Never, never, never give up,” among other things. School wasn't in session Friday.

Love and Pierce, who moved on to cleaning bathrooms, were happy to be together to help others.

“I like cleaning, as long as it's with a good team,” said Love, 24.

“We get into it and do our best,” added Pierce, who's 20.

Both women are studying for their GEDs and making $600 a month doing construction work in the Youth Build program, with the goal of finding full-time work that pays more than minimum wage. Every Youth Build participant also is a member of AmeriCorps.

Youth Build hopes to make its participants lifelong volunteers, said Miriam Blair, the group's program coordinator. Helping out on Friday reinforced that goal, she said.

For the Day of Caring, the Youth Build group also did landscaping at the Nebraska Children's Home and worked at the Open Door Mission.

Other volunteers helped with Elmwood neighborhood cleanup, painted and cleaned a gym and aerobics studio at the YMCA in Council Bluffs and assisted with the refugee program at Lutheran Family Services.

A group of about 30 employees from Blue Cross Blue Shield cleared debris from property at Benson Plant Rescue near 72nd and Maple Streets.

“I was the unskilled labor — I was just busting rock and moving it around,” team member Mark Adams said with a laugh.

Adams, a corporate security officer at Blue Cross, said he has volunteered for the Day of Caring for several years.

He said he does it because early in his life, he learned about stewardship and believes that he possesses skills and resources not only for his consumption but to benefit others.

He also enjoys the camaraderie — and said you can't discount the coffee and doughnuts, “currency for hard work.”

United Way CEO Karen Bricklemyer said the results of the day were amazing.

Not only are volunteers performing crucial work at charities, they're also learning about the programs in Omaha that help people who have needs in all shapes and sizes, she said.

United Way's women's leadership circle, for example, heard a presentation about Omaha's refugee community at Lutheran Family Services before they went shopping at Goodwill for winter coats for those families.

“We hope to have really wonderful stories come out of this,” she said of the annual event. “We're thrilled with it.”

Contact the writer: Betsie Freeman    |   402-444-1267

Betsie Freeman is a reporter covering social services, philanthropy and other topics.

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