Volunteers from a previous Day of Action participate in a football camp. Photo courtesy of Christi Mayo.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
As communities across the globe partake in United Way’s Worldwide Day of Action, Etowah County’s own branch will dedicate itself to service Friday, June 18.
2021 marks the 24th anniversary of United Way’s local presence, emerging as a celebration of decades of commitment and the positive growth that continues to spring forth.
Earlier in COVID-19 pandemic, when United Way’s 2020 Day of Action consisted of virtual projects and donations coinciding with social distance guidelines, the day of service garnered its largest group of volunteers in Etowah County’s history, with 650 inspired individuals joining their efforts to support their community.
While United Way Resource Development and Marketing Director Christi Mayo felt uncertain of the community’s response following the pandemic, compassionate citizens abound in 2021, with this year’s numbers evident of local volunteers eager to sow seeds of service into their county.
A steady ascent of volunteers proved eager to assist this year, with over 550 individuals (and counting) committing by Wednesday, June 16. Among those individuals, families, organizations, businesses and small groups who signed up to help were 57 Glencoe High School football players, motivated to uplift and encourage their neighbors.
“Part of the mission of United Way is mobilizing the caring power of our community,” said Mayo. “I think Day of Action is a culmination of that. It is really giving our community a day to give back to nonprofits and schools – a day where families, businesses and organizations can come together as a team and give back to our community. You get a chance to help those folks in need and get your hands dirty for just a couple hours, but to give back to other people. I think after this year of COVID, everybody is really thankful that we’re still here and we’re trying to share that thankfulness with our community. We appreciate what you’ve done to help us all to give that hand-up to our community, and we want to give back a little to you.”
While Etowah County’s official Day of Action takes place June 18, benevolent and active community members exemplify their desire to help spans beyond one day a year. Mayo shared that several service projects have already reached completion, including landscaping and painting at the Family Success Center in Gadsden, assistance with Man Up Gadsden’s Blue Ball raising awareness for men’s health and a YMCA of the Coosa Valley venture resulting from a partnership with Publix, where employees cleaned playground equipment and windows, painted fencing and performed weed-eating.
Numerous organizations, schools and nonprofits will receive assistance during the Day of Action, with hundreds of volunteer opportunities abounding throughout Etowah County. Projects manifest in endless ways, from Westbrook Christian varsity cheerleaders teaching senior citizens the proper way to operate devices (laptops, phones and iPads) with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Etowah County to UPS building a raised planter box for the Boys & Girls Club.
The Boys & Girls Club planter box represents a dual partnership with the Etowah County Extension Office and Gadsden Public Library, with volunteers educating children on cultivating gardens and horticulture. Lowe’s donated the supplies for the build and future planting, highlighting an exceptional collaboration among several agencies.
Exchange Bank sponsored a project for Big Brothers Big Sisters to develop an activity room as an outlet for mentors and youth to enjoy. Exchange Bank secured furniture, carpet tile and games for the new space. The City of Gadsden’s Barbarian Challenge will welcome United Way volunteers for the first time to organize the obstacle course, hang banners and set-up chairs for the race.
Mayo shared that Day of Action projects are determined by the community, via an assessment of local needs. United Way reaches out to nonprofit organizations and both city and county schools in the area, which in return submit service assignments to the Day of Action Committee. While the Day of Action originally served United Way’s 29 funded partners, as participation grew over the years, the organization expanded its generosity to include other vital resources in the community.
Approximately 25 organizations are participating this year without any previous connections to United Way. Representatives from all municipalities in Etowah County are involved, with service projects spanning countywide. Dedicated sponsor such as Gadsden Regional Medical Center, King’s Olive Oil Company, Riverview Regional Medical Center, Blackstone Pub & Eatery, WinSouth Credit Union, Alabama Power and Buffalo Rock Beverages & Food Services help differ the cost, providing T-shirts and lunch for volunteers while assisting with projects.
“United Way belongs to the community,” said Mayo. “It’s made up of the community and it works on the unmet needs in our community. We’re so fortunate here to have an outpouring of support…over 500 people who want to come out on a Friday and do this work. Thank you to all volunteers. It’s a testament to our community. We’re so blessed here in Etowah County.”
Day of Action proved instrumental in Mayo’s own personal relationship with United Way. While working as a patient advocate for Riverview Regional Medical Center, Mayo and her fellow employees volunteered at the Salvation Army for Day of Action during her first week on the job. At the volunteer luncheon, Mayo was selected to discuss her organization’s efforts throughout the day, sharing her experience and learning from others. Since that significant moment, Mayo became a United Way volunteer, sparking a passion that would lead her to an eventual fulltime position with the organization.
“I was so enamored by what I heard that day, what the volunteers were so excited about, what they learned about the nonprofit and the collaboration between businesses and nonprofits,” said Mayo. “I was hooked.”
While Day of Action represents so many dedicated individuals striving to better their community, this year symbolizes the legacy of a woman whose life exemplified service. United Way remembers former United Way Executive Director Joanne Hightower, who passed away in January, through their actions that honor her memory.
“Joanne very much loved Day of Action,” said Mayo. “This year is going to be difficult for all of us not having her here; that will be something very much on our hearts. We’ll certainly be thinking about her and her family.”