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Volunteers pitch in during Pasco's annual day of Caring

NEW PORT RICHEY

Brad Millen slid the open coloring book under a stapler and held it in place as Tom Dunham rubbed his hands together.

"You ready?" Millen asked.

"Ready, boss," Dunham replied, pushing down gently on the stapler. He pressed three staples into the spine of the book, then looked at his accomplishment and smiled proudly.

"Good job!" Millen exclaimed.

On Wednesday, five developmentally disabled adults from the Center for Independence in Hudson traveled to the Suncoast Epilepsy Association in New Port Richey to assemble 200 coloring books that the association will give to local schoolchildren. The books teach children about epilepsy and what to do if they see someone having a seizure.

It was one of nearly 30 service projects that took place across the county during United Way of Pasco's annual Day of Caring. Every year, teams of volunteers fan out to participate in these projects, which range from painting buildings, repairing fences and planting gardens to clearing land and building playgrounds.

"It allows the volunteers to see where their contributions are going," said Susan Arnett, president of United Way of Pasco.

In Dade City, Publix employees from Zephyrhills re-organized the library and other areas of the Boys and Girls Club. In New Port Richey, Ferman auto dealership employees landscaped around the Youth and Family Alternatives' building. At Hudson Beach park, Bank of America employees painted shelters and sanded playground rails.

Not only were businesses helping nonprofits, but nonprofits were helping other nonprofits.

"I always like it because I think people have the mind-set that nonprofits always come around with their hands held out," Arnett said. But charitable organizations also give back to the community.

The clients at the Center for Independence have various developmental disabilities and rely on donations from others to pay for the training and various services they receive. This is the sixth year that they have volunteered at the Suncoast Epilepsy Association, the sole provider of services to those affected by epilepsy in Pasco and Pinellas counties.

Dunham has come every year. Motioning with his hands, he indicated he likes to staple.

Millen, direct services care worker with the center, also brought William "Bing" Montano, James Hodge, Wendy Rose and Joann Gryckiewicz.

Gryckiewicz volunteered last year and said she was glad to come again.

"I wanted to help," she said.

And the center volunteers definitely are a big help, said Lynn Thomas, director of client services for the epilepsy association.

"We've got a good group today," she said. "Wow, this is great!"

Across the table from Dunham, Rose and Gryckiewicz divided the coloring books into stacks of 20. Rose meticulously flipped through a stack, softly counting and recounting to make sure she was correct. Then, she wrapped a rubber band around the bundle and gathered 20 more books.

Another goal of the Day of Caring is to challenge stereotypes and embrace differences. People at homeless shelters aren't necessarily bums, for example, Arnett said. Some are trying to make ends meet but have simply fallen on hard times.

"There is such an assumption that differences are bad," she said. "We have not learned to celebrate the differences that meld into the beautiful jigsaw puzzle of humanity."

In their everyday lives, the disabled adults enjoy the same activities as able-bodied adults. Montano and Hodge like bowling. Rose and Gryckiewicz like putting puzzles together. They also like crafts and make drink coasters, picture frames and paintings. If anyone needs a hand, they are always willing to lend theirs.

"They love helping people — without a doubt," Millen said. "They love being able to be a part of it."

Dunham stapled the creases of several more coloring books and then took a break so that someone else could have a turn.

"Good job, Tom," Millen said.

Dunham's eyes squinted as another proud smile spread across his face.

"Thank you, Brad," he said.

Volunteers pitch in during Pasco's annual day of Caring 04/06/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 8:45pm]
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