RICHMOND, Va. — The 8th annual HandsOn Day takes place this Saturday at various sites around Richmond. The event will bring 65 nonprofit organizations and more than 1,000 volunteers together for a morning of civic engagement and an afternoon of celebration.
Facilitating the event is HandsOn Greater Richmond, a nonprofit that works year-round to connect volunteers with local organizations in need. Started by three women in 2005 and affiliated with the Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence in 2008, HandsOn Greater Richmond now mobilizes more than 11,000 people a year through its online portal that matches volunteers with ongoing projects as well as special events like HandsOn Day.
Liz Lungut, a program manager for ConnectVA, another affiliate of the Partnership, said that she is looking forward to being a part of the event for a second time.
“There are a ton of different types of projects, so no matter what your passion is or the different ways you can give back, there’s definitely a way you could connect,” Lungut said. “There’s anything from painting a mural in Church Hill to working on a garden at an elementary school or cleaning up a park or walking a dog or carving pumpkins with people with intellectual disabilities. There’s just a ton of different ways that you could help out during that day.”
This year’s attendance is expected to be the biggest turnout yet, and the significance of this one day is not lost on the organizers nor the participants.
“People really love connecting with their community and connecting with different nonprofits and seeing first hand how they can give back,” Lungut said. “What we want to do with HandsOn Day is really inspire people, not just to do that one day, but to give back and connect with something that you’re really passionate about, and to give back to your community on a regular basis. And we see people doing that more year after year, so it’s really great to see people who had a great experience that day, because they come back and they want to continue to give back.”
With the dozens of unique opportunities to choose from and only four hours of commitment, there’s an activity for every age and ability.
For those who enjoy physical work there is a Hanover Habitat for Humanity project as well as multiple clean-ups in parks and neighborhoods, and opportunities to paint, weed and revive community spaces. For families with children or those interested in more leisurely activities there are plenty of options, too.
Even if your Saturday morning schedule can’t afford the full four hours, there are multiple “drop-in” projects that you can attend briefly, to donate food and supplies or to make a birthday card for an underprivileged child.
For instance Support One is a local residential housing program for adults with intellectual disabilities and executive director Richard Schultz, Jr. is quick to emphasize how crucial HandsOn Greater Richmond and HandsOn Day are for both the success of the organization’s mission and the lives of its residents.
“Our HandsOn partnership started about three years ago, and it has been an amazing partnership for a lot of reasons,” Schultz said. “One, a small nonprofit like Support One — and many nonprofits that HandsOn works with — really don’t have the infrastructure to manage a volunteer program. We don’t have a volunteer coordinator, we just don’t have the funding for that. What HandsOn provides is the infrastructure to bring that all together, and also all the tools, the recruitment to bring volunteers in to engage with the organization. So for us it’s been an incredible partnership over the past three years and it continues to grow.”
The participants who signed up to work with Support One will help the residents prepare for their upcoming Halloween party by carving pumpkins, crafting party decorations and costumes, and maybe even busting a move.
“Pumpkin carving last year was such a big hit that we decided to just keep it the same,” said Schultz, who described HandsOn Day as a highlight for his organization. “Because we had such a great experience. So we’re going to be following the same format this year, and usually when we have events it’s pretty free-form. Another thing we always have to have is dancing. The residents absolutely love to dance, so volunteers:: if you like to get down you’ve come to the right place, and you’re going to have a good time dancing with the residents.”
He also notes that unlike other community service opportunities that focus on gathered materials or final products, his organization reaps the most benefit simply from time spent one-on-one with the men and women in their care.
“We see a lot of volunteers who come through HandsOn Greater Richmond’s event. What we tell them is, you’re not building a house. What you’re really doing is nurturing lives by the socialization you’re providing, so not only are you doing something fun, doing a craft project, but just the opportunity to interact with the individuals, to get to know each other, is a really important part of our work,” Schultz added.
There is still time to sign up for a HandsOn Day project as registration will remain open until Friday. To see the full list of projects, register as an individual or a team, or to make a monetary donation to HandsOn Greater Richmond, click here.
This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported this story.