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Westmoreland United Way draws hundreds of volunteers for Day of Caring

| Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, 10:11 a.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Traci Kopchak, a Peoples Natural Gas employee from Allegheny Township, paints around the inside of a window at the Evergreen Lodge at Camp Skymeadow, a Girl Scout camp in Kiski Township on the United Way Day of Caring on Thursday, September 12, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Camp Skymeadow park ranger Tim Shank closes up one of the paint cans after volunteers repainted the inside of the Evergreen Lodge at the camp in Kiski Township on the United Way Day of Caring on Thursday, September 12, 2013.

On almost any other Thursday morning for the past 39 years, Debbie Townsend of Peoples Natural Gas could be found at her desk.

But the senior administrative assistant traded her office supplies at the Leechburg office for a paint roller on Thursday as she and several co-workers repainted the interior of two lodges at the Girl Scouts' Camp Skymeadow in Avonmore.

The painters were among 600-plus volunteers who took part in dozens of community service projects for the United Way of Westmoreland County's annual Day of Caring.

The event pulled volunteers from businesses and organizations across the county.

They donated an estimated 3,000 hours and $63,000 worth of work to the United Way's local nonprofit beneficiaries, according to Jackie Johns, campaign and marketing director for the organization's Westmoreland branch.

For organizations such as the Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania, volunteer work is appreciated and necessary for their survival.

“The United Way's support is so important to us,” said Lisa Shade, the organization's public relations director. “We have 10 camps, so the maintenance costs alone can be overwhelming.

“When we have volunteer work like this, it helps offset costs so we can continue to work on optimizing the girls' camp experience. That's the most important thing.”

Tim Shank, Skymeadow camp ranger, is the sole caretaker of the camp's 371 acres. Without the Day of Caring volunteers, he said the camp's Evergreen and Forrest lodges would have never been repainted.

“It gives us a chance to catch our breath,” he said. “Our maintenance work takes up so much time, we would have never got around to this, and it really improves the look of the camp for the girls.”

The United Way of Westmoreland County connected 21 volunteers from Peoples Natural Gas, FirstEnergy Corp. and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg with the Girl Scouts for the service project. It also reached out to PPG, which donated 35 gallons of paint for the day.

Brenda Capo was one of the six volunteers from FirstEnergy's Arnold service center to volunteer at the camp. She said FirstEnergy's longstanding relationship with United Way at the corporate level creates a culture in the company that encourages volunteerism.

“We all felt like we should get involved,” she said. “The community gives us a lot, and it's important that we give back to the area and the customers that we serve.”

Also benefitting from the Day of Caring in the Alle-Kiski Valley was Peoples Library of Lower Burrell.

The United Way's county chapter connected two UPS employees with the library, according to library director David Hrivnak. The parcel service workers volunteered for about eight hours Thursday, scrubbing the covers of thousands of children's books. It was the eighth consecutive year that the library benefitted from the United Way's Day of Caring, Hrivnak said.

The library is funded in part by the United Way and other charitable organizations. Its funding is supplemented by state and municipal governments, federal grants, the Burrell School District and private donations, but is still less than would be desired, said Hrivnak.

Days like Thursday, the director said, help alleviate the public library's funding woes.

“It's really wonderful that people are willing to dedicate their entire day to help us out and that United Way does what it does to put this together.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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