It’s only mid-morning, but the sun already beats down on the Converse Hope Center. Sunglasses and baseball caps are popular accessories, with nearly everyone there donning one or the other as a couple CHC staff members direct them to sign up for varying community service locations.
Luckily, beverages, sunscreen, and granola have been provided by the center, allowing community members a slight advantage against the soon-to-be harsh rays of sunshine.
Of course, the sun, sweat, and dirt didn’t stop about 85 volunteers from spending a couple of hours Saturday tackling multiple service projects around town at varying locations like the Pioneer Museum, Laramie Peak Humane Society, Ivy Leaf Gardens, the Hope Center and Madora Plaza. The multiple projects, organized by CHC, were divided among the volunteers so that each job could be approached by a small, efficient number of people.
“We called around to a bunch of different organizations, and (we chose) whomever had the staff to organize it, whomever had work that needed done. And we just wanted to hit different areas of the community as well,” CHC Executive Director Lisa Thalken said.
One attractive project was scraping the weary, chipped paint from the Pioneer Museum’s one-room schoolhouse so that a fresh coat may be applied later this summer.
“My staff is so short, I never ever have enough people to do things like that,” museum Superintendent Mel Glover said.
Efforts put into improving the schoolhouse could later benefit the community, Glover explained. “Every year I get fourth and fifth-graders who come through, and we do a little tour of the schoolhouse, I let them ring the bell, too. And that always seems to be a crowd pleaser.”
Once the volunteering had concluded, the children scraping away at paint chips were treated to this opportunity to ring the schoolhouse’s worn brass bell, which prompted a frenzy of giggles and claps.
Bekah Grube, an AmeriCorps member who works for CHC, explained the focus of the day was including all of the community’s age groups in the projects.
“I feel like a lot of volunteer events are focused around what adults can do. We geared it toward getting everyone involved,” she said.
City-dwellers of numerous ages contributed, the youngest being 3 years old. The oldest is 82.
Another project on the agenda was clean up at the Laramie Peak Humane Society. Community members slipped on leather gloves and trudged through the heat to clear a future dog-training area, a task that included ripping weeds, scooping dog feces, and raking tumbleweeds.
LPHS Executive Director Kathy Feezer-Jones said this job wouldn’t have been possible without the extra help. The shelter has a dog— a breed mix of Belgian malinois and German shepherd named Bravo— that they hope to send to the South Dakota Canine Center so that it may be trained as a working dog. However, the SDCC requires a video submission from a proper facility, proving that the furry applicant can follow basic orders.
“With all the weeds and stuff (in the shelter yard), they won’t take it as a video,” Fleezer-Jones explained. “It has to look right by their specs.”
Another project included gardening and painting signs promoting abuse-awareness at CHC, which only involved a handful of volunteers.
Ivy Leaf Gardens hosted about half a dozen people who mostly yanked and gathered weeds for the plant shop.
A few volunteers were sent to Madora Plaza, where they assisted members of the Blessings in a Backpack program in bagging food for children in need. Daviette Calderon, director of the program, explained that they decided to do a volunteer summer kickoff initiative because school had ended and needy children were no longer guaranteed meals on weekdays. According to Calderon, about 40 people—including folks not involved with CHC’s community service project— volunteered throughout the day.
“We were able to bag up food for about 75 children in our community. And there’s enough food that we’ll be able to feed them for several weeks,” Calderon said.
After they poured a couple hours’ worth of effort and perspiration into the multiple projects around town, community members were directed to Washington Park, where CHC provided a free Subway lunch, live music and lawn games.
“The main thing we wanted to accomplish was just to bring the community together, to not just help out at our organization, but throughout town and give people that sense of pride in their community,” Thalken said. “I really think we did accomplish that. We had a great turnout, it was a beautiful day, and we got a lot done.”
Tanya Reed – who volunteered alongside her children James, 7, Ben, 10, Matthew, 5, and Hannah, 13 – advocated for the importance of community service.
“It benefits us because we learn to give to the community, and the community benefits, of course,” she said. “It brings the community together.”
With a humble smile, Hannah chimed in that volunteering had “felt good.”