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Taking day off to help others around the county

Heather Laughridge, a Girl Scout volunteer, rakes leaves at the New Beginnings Youth Shelter in Brooksville on Friday. “It’s better than painting,” she said. She was taking part in the annual United Way Day of Caring.

RON THOMPSON | Times

Heather Laughridge, a Girl Scout volunteer, rakes leaves at the New Beginnings Youth Shelter in Brooksville on Friday. “It’s better than painting,” she said. She was taking part in the annual United Way Day of Caring.

SPRING HILL — Grocery store workers left their aisles on Friday, credit counselors got up from their desks, Scout leaders went to the great outdoors where they thrive.

Some 250 volunteers signed on for the annual United Way Day of Caring during which they spread around Hernando County and tamed landscapes, spruced up buildings run by non-profits, painted picket porch railings, smiling all the while.

One team descended on New Beginnings, a homeless shelter for teens.

Jon Eddins spent much of the day power washing the exterior of the building, except for a few moments when he encountered a wasp nest. "It's a big one; I wouldn't be afraid of a little one," he said, and was directed to a can of insect spray.

The 42-year-old construction worker who remodels homes is unemployed in this housing and economy crunch. So, the Brooksville resident came out to help others even less fortunate.

Eddins joined the Habitat for Humanity team, urged by his father who is a Habitat board member. It was Eddins' first tour as a Day of Caring volunteer.

Lloyd Cunningham scrabbled at pulling errant runners of St. Augustine grass overrunning a mulch surround of a young tree. Does he do that at home? "Oh, yes, every time my wife tells me," he replied.

Wisecracks aside, the teacher of financial responsibility at Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Brooksville, said, "I do gardening at home, too. I'm happy to do this." The company is a United Way partner agency.

Cunningham was a first-timer who wouldn't reveal his age but doffed his hat to show silver hair.

Jeff Thomas wore a Winthrop University T-shirt as he dipped a paint brush into a can of glossy white and applied it to porch railings. "Only a master's degree" is required for the job, he said.

The 59-year-old gazed skyward and calculated he's been volunteering for the Day of Caring in Hernando for 17 or 18 years. Thomas lives in Pasco County, where he is director of the non-profit Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, which serves the two counties but doesn't have an office in Hernando.

Heather Laughridge, 30, a Girl Scout volunteer, raked leaves from tree and shrub beds. Yes, leaves do fall in Florida. "It's better than painting," she said.

But Sarah Duncan, 29, chose the painting over gardening. "Doing good," the Spring Hill resident declared at mid-morning as she scrolled a paint roller. Other days she works at a real estate title insurance company.

She also was bent on recruiting women to build an all-women's raised house for Habitat for Humanity, construction scheduled to begin in November.

Mark Phillips, director of New Beginnings, noted, "There's a lot of networking going on. Agencies are getting to know each other. United Way is all about community and coming together."

He saw that on his plot Friday. United Way volunteers from Girl Scouts, Consumer Credit and organizations that can support the home's population talked to him about coming in and describing their offerings to the teens.

Back to the volunteer workers on site: Phillips said it amounted to 100 work hours at $10 an hour. "That's a lot of money. More important than the money is the time," he noted. "We don't have a lot of time due to the demands of the (counseling) program." The youths are enrolled in school during the day.

The Day of Caring sent out 35 teams from 18 volunteer businesses also to conduct reading circles and math labs at Deltona and Spring Hill elementary schools; paint bathhouses and tree houses, replace canvas on tents and remove downed trees at a Girl Scout camp; pressure wash the horse barn and paint buildings at Arc of the Nature Coast and its group homes; and perform office functions at the Hernando Schools Volunteer Department.

Once again, Publix Supermarkets sent the most volunteers from its seven Hernando stores. Oak Hill and Brooksville Regional hospitals and the Wal-Mart Distribution Center were generous with workers, Jones said. Board directors pitched in, as did members of partner agencies, she added.

Carrabba's Italian Grill provided lunch for the volunteers.

"Live United," was the theme, and it played out.

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

Taking day off to help others around the county 10/03/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 3, 2008 7:56pm]

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