Day of Caring is a day of learning too

Volunteers came out Saturday in support of United Way, UAS event

Posted: Sunday, September 21, 2003

Honey Smith, an instructor at the University of Alaska Southeast, and Adam Fleek, one of her students, pushed aside a heavy bunk bed at the Glory Hole homeless shelter, and Fleek began to sweep the floor.

Soon they and students Brandon Wigfield and Ian Thrower were scrubbing the walls.

They were among the volunteers who helped out Saturday at local nonprofit agencies as part of the United Way's Day of Caring. The number of helpers wasn't immediately available.

"We're just really trying to increase awareness in the community about (the nonprofits') needs and what sort of services they provide," said Dawn Miller, executive director of the United Way of Southeast Alaska.

Staff in the chancellor's office at UAS helps organize the event.

"Seeing the way that people are in this kind of situation, you get the other side of how people live," said Fleek, a UAS freshman from Juneau.

Volunteers, many of whom are students and staff at UAS, were scheduled to help with tasks such as sprucing up the AWARE shelter for abused women and children, cleaning up the Boy Scouts of America's building and planting flower bulbs at Gastineau Human Services.

Volunteers were scheduled to help the Alaska Health Fair publicize a senior health fair.

"It's a great way for connecting the various agency members with United Way," said Valerie O'Hare, Alaska Health Fair program director for Southeast, on Friday. "It's a reflection of how much United Way is doing statewide and in the region."

The United Way helps fund 31 Southeast agencies.

"This is incredibly important to keep our operation going, because we rely on volunteer groups to do things our staff can never get to, especially deep cleaning," Glory Hole Executive Director Jetta Whittaker said of the Day of Caring.

Students in Smith's UAS humanities class titled Alaska, a Sense of Place and Beyond are required to do some sort of community service during the year. Some choose the Day of Caring.

She expects students to use the project to think about their goals and strengths and the challenges they face. The work is seen in the larger context of what Alaska is, she said.

"Everybody has a different definition," Smith said. "By using these kinds of experiences, it broadens our understanding of what the community is."

Students can make better decisions about their community because they know it better, she said. They also get to know each other.

"You guys think this is going to come off," she asked her students as they scrubbed at the walls of the men's bunkroom.

"It's not pretty work," the Glory Hole's Whittaker said. "It's not sexy work. But it really needs to be done, and it's a gift."

Tor Dahl, outgoing manager at the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, said volunteers would do some "spring cleaning in the fall" on the Day of Caring.

"It's great," he said. "They'll do anything as long as they have the tools and the know-how. ... I bet if we asked them to pour concrete, they would. It's pretty cool."

Volunteers were scheduled to put on a party for the children at the Boys and Girls Club on Mallard Street behind the Nugget Mall.

The club tries to mentor children, but 63 kids on average visit each day, and there are only five staff members.

"It's really nice when an adult would come and spend a certain amount of time with kids that we aren't able to," said Elizabeth Williams, director of the Juneau club. "We can't play games of pool with every kid. A volunteer can come in and be that one-on-one person."

• Eric Fry can be reached at

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