Volunteers get to work around Suffolk

Published 10:51 pm Friday, September 11, 2009

They came from banks and factories, from hospitals and churches, from the police department and from the regional jail.

One thing they all had in common, though, was a desire to show how much they care for their neighbors and their community by volunteering a few hours of their time on Friday.

About 1,700 volunteers spread out around Hampton Roads on Friday to help clean up, spruce up and lift up their communities during the 18th annual United Way Day of Caring.

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In Suffolk, volunteers converged on a homeless shelter, low-income housing developments, playgrounds and more for a blitz that began at 9 a.m. and continued through 3 p.m.

“We are really excited to see the Suffolk community pull together once more to build a better community for all,” Beth Cross, development manager for the United Way’s Western Hampton Roads office, said in an e-mail Thursday.

“United Way’s mission is to mobilize the caring power of the community, and we need it more this year — more than ever — with the increasing needs and decreasing resources.”

The event is always held on the first weekend after Labor Day. This year, it corresponded with the anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks and the first National Day of Service and Remembrance, authorized under the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in April.

Volunteers gathered in at least one work site took time to remember the victims of the 9-11 attacks.

“I lost a couple of friends in the Pentagon (attack),” retired Rear Admiral Tom Steffens said during a brief ceremony outside of Suffolk House, a homeless shelter for families run by Hampton Roads’ ForKids organization.

Steffens, who is president of the ForKids board of directors, talked about the example that was set that day by firefighters, police officers, members of the military and average citizens who pitched in to help rescue the wounded and protect the nation.

“There was service and sacrifice like that all across Washington that day, all across New York and in Pennsylvania.”

About 60 volunteers were expected at Suffolk House to weed and mulch garden beds and a playground, scrape and paint fences and woodwork and clean the building, according to Larissa Sutherland, the community relations coordinator at the shelter.

“We’re going to transform Suffolk House today,” Steffen told volunteers from Tidewater Community College and Signature Financial Management. “The playground is going to be the garden spot of Suffolk when we’re finished with it.”

Across the city, other groups of volunteers were engaged in similar work.

“We really hope it translates from helping hands to helping these agencies,” the United Way’s Cross said at the Target Distribution Center on Manning Bridge Road, where workers spent a couple of hours putting plastic covers on books for the Raising a Reader program.

“It’s a good way for the community to see what the United Way is, who our agencies are and get a hands-on feel for what the needs are in our community.”

Other Suffolk sites to benefit from Friday’s volunteer help were the Children’s Harbour (TowneBank), Jersey Park Apartments (Western Tidewater Regional Jail), Senior Services (Ciba), Suffolk Family YMCA (Birdsong Peanuts), Salvation Army (Sentara), Parker Riddick Village (Lockheed Martin), Hoffler Apartments (Sentara), Bishop Colander Meadows (Sentara) and three Suffolk community gardens (Suffolk Police Department).