For decades, a Franklin couple hired professionals to clean up their yard and bushes.
When Jack Riota died last year, Ruby Riota’s income was cut in half. She no longer could afford to hire people to take care of her yard.
“I don’t have the extra money for anything like this,” she said.
And at 82, she can’t do the trimming, pruning, mowing and weeding herself.
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On Thursday, she got some help from volunteers sent by Johnson County Senior Services through United Way’s annual Day of Caring.
More than 280 volunteers from 34 companies fanned out across the county Thursday to help agencies that the United Way serves. The annual Day of Caring marks the start of the annual fundraising campaign for the United Way of Johnson County.
The day was not only about helping out nonprofit agencies that don’t have the time or money to complete bigger maintenance projects but also about seeing where money donated to the United Way goes, volunteers said.
Rick Howe, with NSK, spent time power washing the side of the Nineveh Senior Center and building picnic tables and benches for the center.
Howe donates to United Way and knows the need. He has seen friends get help from some of the social service agencies and knows that Fast Track, a United Way program that collects school supplies for needy children, is vital for some families, he said.
“One day, I may be using it,” he said.
For Day of Caring, agencies prepare wish lists of projects done that they don’t have time to complete.
At the Nineveh Senior Center, for example, volunteers built four picnic tables and six benches, waxed and buffed the floor of the room where the center has birthday parties and community meals, and painted the outside of the building.
The center has 156 members, and their $12-a-year dues payments help pay for utilities and activities, said Caroline Burton, center president.
That doesn’t leave much for other projects, such as new picnic tables. The average age of members is between 75 and 80, so asking the members to do the work is not possible, she said.
“We are not able to do some of the stuff that they have volunteered to do,” she said.
Employees at Head Start in Franklin spend their days caring and teaching children. They don’t always have the time to repair cubbies, paint bathrooms or spread mulch on the playground, according to manager Kim Russell.
“If we didn’t have Day of Caring, we would not be able to get this work done,” she said.
Jill Hippenmeyer with Johnson Memorial Hospital stripped and sanded cubbies that children put their belongings in. She has wanted to volunteer to help others, she said, and Day of Caring seemed like the perfect opportunity to help an agency and to give back to the community where she grew up.
“I am from Franklin. I went to high school here. I wanted to do something more,” Hippenmeyer said.
Often the Day of Caring extends beyond one day. NSK employees spent a week working with the Nineveh Senior Center, said Phil Engelking, project head at NSK.
Volunteers shared a lunch with seniors who use the center and assessed their needs. They went to a board meeting to get a list and scoped out the projects before the Day of Caring. And they went to a home improvement store to buy the materials they would need to build the picnic tables and benches.
“A lot more work goes into it than people think,” he said.