Day of Caring brings volunteers to sites throughout the region – Chicago Tribune

Jeanne Sommer has never seen the Lakeshore PAWS parking lot as full as Friday, when the nonprofit Valparaiso Dog Rescue received help from more than 70 volunteers as part of United’s annual Day of Caring Way of Northwest Indiana.

“We’ve been so full, as have shelters across the country, and so it helps us spend time with the dogs because we haven’t had to weed and clean the van,” Sommer, who launched PAWS in 2011. “It’s hard for dogs to be in kennels.”

The volunteers, including nine-year-old Paige Schmidt from Valparaiso, took on a wide variety of tasks, from weeding the exercise yard to cleaning the pantries. Perhaps the most popular post was playing with some of the 30 dogs currently awaiting adoption for the rescue.

Schmidt and his mother, Brittney Schmidt, were part of a group of 40 volunteers from Gracepoint Church in Valparaiso. The two spent an hour weeding, then spent time walking and snuggling with Bella.

“It was really fun,” Paige Schmidt said. “Weeds, not so much, but I really like playing with dogs. She was really nice and sweet and I hope she will be adopted soon.

She asked her mother not to mention the weeding to her father when they got home. Volunteering is one thing. Chores another.

All over town it was “Cookin’ With the Oldies!” as seven employees and a retiree from Computer Services Incorporated in Valparaiso relaunched an annual barbecue for day visitors at the St. Agnes Adult Day Service Center. The event has not been able to take place for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but on Friday morning the company descended on the center laden with homemade side dishes and set out at work grilling burgers and hot dogs for the 15 seniors who visit daily.

“My grandfather used to come here,” said CSI employee Amanda Pishkur from Valparaiso. “It was good because it gave my mom a break.”

Pishkur and his colleagues had the whole day off to volunteer their time. They showed up with bowls of green beans, fruit, pasta, corn and black-eyed peas, and tomato salads, along with Dreamsicle Fluff, cookies, and brownies.

“I think we’re fine,” said day visitor Candy Hostettler of Portage, after settling into the dining room with her plate. “Otherwise we’re going to scream,” she told the volunteer staff.

She described the bindings as “fabulous, very good”.

“Everyone seems to be very quiet right now,” she added before digging in.

CSI has been participating in Day of Caring for at least 25 years, according to Kim Velasquez, head of strategic product management for the company. As Velasquez and his team prepared for a storm, Jim Martz of Valparaiso trimmed pine trees a few feet away as part of the efforts of Sunrise Kiwanis, one of two groups of Valparaiso Kiwanis participating in the regional event. The Noon Kiwanis were at ValPlayso doing maintenance there.

“This is the second time we’ve done St. Agnes,” Martz said. “Sunrise Kiwanis is truly about service.”

Regular St. Agnes volunteer and Valparaiso resident Marge Bilunas, who helps oversee the landscaping, led the work.

“I hope the boss doesn’t get mad at me,” Martz says, admitting he took it upon himself to prune the lower branches near the main driveway, and asking Bilunas where to pile the branches afterwards.

These events were part of a larger event organized throughout the region by United Way. More than 90 projects in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties have used volunteers for a wide range of projects from storing household items in bags at Sojourner Truth House in Gary, to making care packages for cancer patients at Phil’s Friends in Crown Point.

Day of Caring brings together nonprofits, businesses, municipalities, civic groups and residents to help local nonprofits.

“They have more projects than they can handle, and having volunteers to help clean, fix and make things look good helps them know we care,” Anne-Marie said. Williams, United Way volunteer and event manager.

Shelley Jones is a freelance journalist for the Post-Tribune.