A sea of blue filled the William E. Urschel Pavilion in Valparaiso Friday morning, made up of hundreds of cerulean-shirted volunteers.
Gathered together under the banner of United Way of Porter County’s 2019 Day of Caring initiative, dedicated community members chatted over coffee and breakfast in preparation for the day’s work.
"It's inspiring,” said Randy Zromkoski, Chairman of the Board of Directors of United Way of Porter County. “We have people all bedecked in light blue shirts that are going out as a blue wave into the community to do things that are good, that will make life better for so many people, and it'll make them happy at the end of the day."
This year, over 570 volunteers, individually and in teams from local businesses, organized to complete 68 projects for 34 different non-profit groups around Northwest Indiana.
It takes months of work to coordinate projects and match volunteer groups with the organizations they’ll be supporting, said Kasie Tenbarge, Director of Development for United Way of Porter County.
"We’re here to support our fellow non-profits,” Tenbarge said. “If there is a non-profit that has a project that needs to be done, we help them."
At the VNA of Northwest Indiana (VNA of NWI), colleagues from 1st Source Bank and Praxair cleaned windows, weeded and mulched the garden, hauled rubbish, made Meals on Wheels runs, and sanitized the playroom.
"To be able to have a huge volunteer crew come help with things that you just don't quite get to during the day is a huge deal," said Maria Galka, Director of Development for VNA of NWI.
Individual volunteers stopped by throughout the morning to drop off comfort packages for residents and families, containing goodies like hard candies, tea, and cards with words of support.
"It's just a little bit of a distraction, a little bit of joy in the middle of a tough day,” Galka said. “It's a way to let them know that the community is thinking about them and understands what they're going through."
Crystal Cartwright, Banking Center Manager for 1st Source Bank in Valparaiso, deeply appreciated the opportunity to participate with her company teammates at Day of Caring.
"It feels awesome,” Cartwright said. “The VNA does amazing things for the community and I was really excited when our group as a whole came together and decided to work here today."
1st Source Bank has supported the United Way of Porter County, both financially and physically, for many years, Cartwright explained.
"They really instill community involvement into all the employees," she said. "It feels really good. It gives you the warm fuzzies."
The annual Day of Caring event is also the kickoff for United Way of Porter County’s yearly fundraising campaign. According to Todd Leeth, 2019-2020 Campaign Chair for United Way of Porter County, over 40 percent of Porter County residents are directly impacted by the organization’s community support programs throughout the year.
Programs like VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance initiative, which helps Porter County citizens successfully file their income tax returns every year.
“Last tax season, VITA volunteers secured $930,000 of tax refunds for citizens in Porter County that they may not have otherwise received," Leeth said.
"This is a great day,” he continued. “It's a celebration of volunteerism and we're looking forward to it.”
For more information on available services, future volunteer opportunities, and donation options, please visit the United Way of Porter County website at www.unitedwaypc.org.