A day of caring: More than 1,400 volunteers complete projects around county

In the 22nd year of Jackson County United Way’s Day of Caring, nearly 1,500 volunteers joined together Tuesday to help complete 183 projects.

The record-breaking number of volunteers built wheelchair ramps, did landscaping and yard cleanup for senior citizens, created care kits for cancer patients, among many other projects.

Seymour High School Key Club

This year, Jackson County United Way wanted to get more youth involved in Day of Caring.

The invitation was all Seymour High School Key Club members needed to jump on board.

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Around 40 students joined forces in the school library giving of their time, and in some cases their own money, to make the day a little brighter for local cancer patients.

The students put together 100 Chemo Kits to donate to the Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour for patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

Each bag was decorated with inspirational and uplifting messages. One student wrote “I believe in you,” another wrote “Be strong and fight on” and a third put “Stars can’t shine without darkness.”

Students then went from table to table picking up items to put in the bags.

When finished, each bag contained a bottle of water, small bottles of hand lotion, hand sanitizer and mouthwash, lip balm, a Kleenex packet, a handful of hard candies, three chamomile tea bags and a coloring or puzzle/activity book.

Students also made special journals for each patient to have a place to write down their thoughts and feelings or important things to remember.

The items and materials for the kits were purchased through donations and club funds.

This was the first year in a long time that the Key Club has participated in Day of Caring, but not all of the volunteers were Key Club members. The club opened it up for any student at the high school to come help, and many did.

Being a student-led service organization, the project was a perfect fit for the club to carry out its mission of encouraging and developing leadership through serving others.

Club officers chose the project because many of them have been touched by cancer in some way, said Key Club adviser Adrianne Hernandez.

Freshman Tori Gray, club president, said there were a lot of different ideas, but club members felt the Chemo Kits would have the most impact.

She was touched by cancer when her mother was diagnosed with the disease.

“My mom had cancer, but it wasn’t anything serious because they found it super-early,” Gray said. “It’s just eye-opening because it could have been a lot worse.”

There’s not a single person she knows who hasn’t been affected by cancer in one way or another, she said.

Although the kits can’t take a patient’s cancer away, they can lift their spirits, Gray said.

“We want them to know that there are people who are thinking about them and they are not alone,” she said.

By completing the project and being involved in Day of Caring, Gray said, “Kids can make a difference, no matter how big or small, and they want to.”

Sometimes, they just don’t know how, she said.

The club sent out a school-wide email and put up posters throughout the building letting students know about the opportunity and how they could be a part of it.

Crystal Adams, an employee at Schneck Medical Center, read about the project in the newspaper and decided to help, too. She and her son, freshman Javon Browning, both decorated and filled bags.

Adams said cancer has impacted their family more than once. She thought the chemo kits were a wonderful idea to help people take their mind off of their illness, if even for just a little while, she said.

Tonja Couch, executive director of Jackson County United Way, also stopped by the high school and said she was excited to see youth leadership in action.

In all, 200 youth from Cortland Elementary School, Margaret R. Brown Elementary School, Seymour High School and Crothersville and Brownstown schools took part in Day of Caring projects Tuesday, Couch said.

It’s Couch’s dream for every classroom to participate in Day of Caring in the future, she said.

“You are all part of something really big,” she said.

Starve Hollow State Recreation Area

Around 35 volunteers from Cummins Seymour Engine Plant were spread out around Starve Hollow State Recreation Area in Vallonia.

One group helped dig around the playground to fill it with gravel and then put railroad ties on top to keep mulch in place. Then they filled the area with mulch.

Other groups placed gravel around the nature center, planted flowers and painted around the campground.

Brad Schneck, property manager of Starve Hollow and Jackson-Washington State Forest, said he has a small staff managing 18,000 acres, so it’s great to have extra help for one day.

“It’s a great way to get things done that we might not be able to get done this quick,” Schneck said. “It’s an awesome thing for the whole county.”

For some of the volunteers, it was their first time at Starve Hollow.

“The big thing is you get all of this effort and make it look good,” Schneck said. “We have a lot of people from out of the county that come here, so they see all of this work, and it makes them keep coming back to the county.”

Eric Drawbaugh, who has worked at Cummins for four years and lives in Elizabethtown, was among the first-timers at Starve Hollow.

“It’s nice just to get out in the community since I don’t live around here,” he said. “It’s nice to see all of the different parks and everything.”

Joe Reynolds camped at Starve Hollow with his family last year.

“We love it out here,” the Sellersburg resident and 26-year Cummins employee said. “It is fun to be back here in a different capacity and helping out.”

Drawbaugh said he has helped with Day of Caring every year he has worked at Cummins.

“It has always been good,” he said. “I enjoy helping individuals that maybe can’t help themselves or need special attention.”

Reynolds said he also has done a variety of Day of Caring projects, including painting, handing out food to the elderly and fixing a door at a disabled person’s home.

“I think it’s great that we’re able to get out and help people, especially those that really need it, and help the community,” he said.

Both men said they like having an opportunity to help the community.

“Working for a company that values the community, they value you, as well, because we’re all living and making families in the community,” Drawbaugh said.

“The plant is effectively shut down today,” Reynolds said of the Cummins plant that has more than 900 employees. “It’s not forced on people to do it, but it is highly encouraged.”

Amy Gonzalez and Stephanie Montana, both of Seymour, and Sherry Johnson of Medora worked together to plant flowers around Starve Hollow.

“A lot of people come in to enjoy the summertime, enjoy the great weather, and we’re beautifying the place and making it an enjoyable place for people to stay,” Gonzalez said.

Montana and Johnson both said it’s rewarding and enjoyable work.

“It’s a different type of work when you get out of the office because I normally sit at my desk all day, so it’s nice to be able to get out and move around and do something a little different,” Montana said.

“It just feels good to do stuff for others instead of just for yourself,” Johnson said.

Lebline Woods Nature Preserve

Another Day of Caring project was at a piece of land along the East Fork White River near Seymour.

About a year ago, the site was acquired by the Oak Heritage Conservancy to create the Lebline Woods Nature Preserve.

“There are a lot of wildflowers here that are kind of rare for the area,” said Liz Brownlee, executive director of the Oak Heritage Conservancy.

Cummins Seymour Engine Plant employees cut vines on the property and sprayed them with a small amount of plant killer to remove the invasive vines, which were choking out other plant life.

The conservancy, which is in its 15 year, is trying to get the site ready for public access.

It’s easily accessed from the river; however, being landlocked by other individuals’ property, it is difficult to access it from nearby Reddington Street.

Brownlee is undeterred by that, saying the site eventually will be ready for the public to see and wander through.

Southern Indiana Center for the Arts

James McNeely felt nostalgic as he helped clear landscaping and clean up around Southern Indiana Center for the Arts in Seymour.

The operations manager with Cummins Seymour Engine Plant not only was doing his part volunteering during Day of Caring but also improving the area that was his grandparents’ former home.

“I learned to swim here when they had the pool,” he said, standing in the driveway of the center.

His grandparents owned the property until the late 1980s when they sold it to Seymour native John Mellencamp, who still owns it today.

“It’s always nice to be here,” McNeely said.

He said the experience of helping improve the area was rewarding, and he felt a sense of connection with the property.

“It really is great to be here with my co-workers and show them what it means to me and that I’m attached to it,” he said. “We plan on coming back here next year and help come up with a list and have something accomplished at the end of the day.”

McNeely and other Cummins employees helped with landscaping outdoors. The center also received help from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Indiana Realty of Seymour as employees helped paint the interior of the center.

Jane Hays, an arts center board member, said volunteers helped the nonprofit save money and man-hours.

“We only have board members, so it would have taken us several days to figure out how to get all this done,” she said.

Hays said the community should feel blessed to have a day like Day of Caring, and volunteers seem happy to help with the work they’re assigned.

“It’s fantastic that we have people in the community willing to do this and that companies let their employees off to do it,” she said.

McNeely agreed Day of Caring is a great idea.

“I’m really proud of how much Cummins has embraced it,” he said.