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How HandsOn Day volunteers help transform Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. ― HandsOn Greater Richmond will host its fourth HandsOn Day on Saturday, a city-wide push to get citizens to connect and volunteer with local nonprofit and community service organizations.

HandsOn Greater Richmond is the local branch of the national HandsOn network, a nonprofit that connects volunteers and organizations to complete public service projects around the country. Through Richmond’s network more than 11,000 volunteers engage in local community service projects during the year.

“They have a great online tool that lets us as a nonprofit organization put out what openings we have and what we need. We can describe what it is and what age groups are appropriate for it,” Susan Sekerke, HandsOn Day marketing committee member, said.

In addition to opportunities for individual volunteers, HandsOn Day offers projects for corporations and their employees to engage with colleagues.

Last year, more than 1,000 volunteers worked at more than 60 locations throughout the city.

“A lot of corporations will work with some of the same organizations, because they’ve developed that relationship,” Sekerke said. “It’s good for people from the corporate world that may not have the time to get out in the nonprofit world otherwise to see what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

She added that most organizations involved with HandsOn Day see it as an introduction for volunteers.

“A lot of people come back to do it, people think they’re going to do something one time but they keep coming back,” Sekerke said. “It’s a way you get to connect with people you wouldn’t otherwise get to connect with.”

HandsOn expects again more than 1,000 volunteers to turn out for HandsOn Day on Saturday.

"It’s a great tool for the want-to-be volunteer, because they can go in and search by zip code, keywords, whether they don’t want to be outside or do want to be inside. It really does give a person flexibility," Sekerke said.

According to Lorena Castro, urban farm coordinator of the community gardening nonprofit Tricycle Gardens, some of the organization’s most demanding projects are completed during HandsOn Day.

This year her volunteers will be preparing gardens for winter farming by building low tunnel structures out of PVC electrical conduit and rebar.

“With over 30 planting beds, it'll be a challenging task that will involve teamwork and communication. We're looking forward to it!” said Castro in an email interview.

Castro added that HandsOn Day provides Tricycle Gardens with its most consistent and reliable source of volunteers. In the past, volunteers have helped to build infrastructure, move soil, participated in major planting days, and harvested hundreds of pounds of produce for the communities.

“HandsOn Greater Richmond is a facilitator and a catalyst of community building and human connections,” Castro said. “Our partnership with them is crucial to our work due to the nature and intensiveness of urban farm work.”

Becky Odor, a HandsOn Day volunteer captain, said that she was drawn to the event because it gave her opportunities to volunteer alongside her sons.

“HandsOn Richmond is really supportive to families,” Odor said. “It’s been a great experience and I’ve done it every year.”

As a volunteer captain, Odor acts as the link between the volunteers and project organizers during the day.

HandsOn Day is vital to local nonprofits, because it allows community members to engage with projects and people on a personal level, making volunteers likely to return, said Diana Villarreal, community engagement and volunteer manager at Ronald McDonald House Charities.

HandsOn Day “allows so many individuals in Richmond to get involved with local nonprofits on a personal level and get a hands-on view of what they do, in really meaningful service,” said Villarreal.

On Saturday, volunteers will be putting together activity packs for children in local hospitals and painting the Ronald McDonald House’s interior.

“A lot of people want to get involved, but they aren’t sure how and they aren’t sure where,” Villarreal said. “HandsOn is a great hub for that.”

To learn how, when and where you can get involved in your community on Saturday, please visit the HandOn Day website.

By Jesse Adcock (Special to

EDITOR’S NOTE: has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. A student from the project reported this story.