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Published on October 10, 2019

Students Volunteer Across Willimantic for ‘Day of Caring’

Students disinfect toys at the Abundant Life Church playroom.

A student paints at the Abundant Life Church.

Students pose near a Willimantic River waterfall before planting local species and weeding invasive plants, in collaboration with the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership.

Students harvest potatoes at the Lauter Park community garden.

Students weed the Grow Windham green house.

Left to right: Kim Silcox, director of the CCE; Jim Bellano, director of economic development for the Town of Windham; Mario Conjura, vice president of People's United Bank; Paula Gilberto, president and CEO of United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut.

hawn Maynard, executive director of Windham Hospital, addresses the crowd of volunteers during the opening ceremony.

A fleet of Eastern students took up shovels and brooms on Oct. 5 for the annual Day of Caring, a large-scale volunteer effort in collaboration with United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut. Nearly 90 student volunteers dispersed to locations across Willimantic for a variety of fall clean-up projects. Organizations included GROW Windham, the Abundant Life Church, the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry, CLICK, Horizons and the Joshua’s Trust Church Farm.

Before students went to their assigned locations, local leaders thanked the students and spoke to them about the importance of the work they were going to be completing throughout the day. “It is amazing to see so many young people out here this early in the morning, and I commend you all for being here,” said Shawn Maynard, executive director of the Windham Hospital Foundation. “Wear proudly the shirts you are wearing and live united.”

Paula S. Gilberto, president and CEO of the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, also spoke about what has been done in the community through financial contributions and volunteerism in the area. “With $300,000 raised, we worked with our partners last year to make sure that 360 Windham students participated in in-school and after-school programs. These programs help them stay on track academically so that they graduate from high school. Emergency financial assistance was provided to 8,500 people to help with rent, utilities and transportation. Nearly 5,000 people called the United Way hotline seeking assistance in connecting with health and human service organizations.”

Students pick up trash near Main Street.

A student cleans the entrance of the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry.

Students work in the GROW Windham garden.

Volunteers harvest potatoes at the Lauter Park community garden

A student paints a tool shed at GROW Windham.

Mario Conjura, vice president of People’s United Bank and chair of the Windham Regional Advisory Board, asked students to think about what matters the most to them as they went out to the community to work. “What matters the most to you? What are you passionate about?” asked Conjura. “A community is defined by a shared concern or passion ensuring children that succeed in school, people get jobs and are financially secure, people are healthy and basic needs are met during tough times. Together we are going to do amazing things. I look forward to seeing you again soon, and thank you for spending the morning with us bright and early.”

Eastern students contributed 472 hours of work and picked up more than 100 bags worth of trash around the community during the day. Students also helped out at a community garden, helped clean town museums, planted plants in the community, created literacy kits, built small bridges and more.

One of the many organizations that Eastern students volunteered with on ‘The Day of Caring’ was the Willimantic No Freeze Shelter, which provides a safe place to sleep to those who find themselves homeless during the winter. Students assisted the shelter with their Frogtober Fest Race by handing out drinks to runners and directing runners on the path across town.

Another location where students helped was CLICK, a community kitchen whose goal is to make food more sustainable by providing space to local entrepreneurs and small businesses to cook and plant produce. Students assisted CLICK’s staff by constructing protective covers for their plants. “Thank you for the wonderful help. The students were delightful,” said Leigh Duffy, who worked with the students at CLICK. 

Kim Silcox, director of the Center for Community Engagement at Eastern, commented on the results of the day. “I saw many areas that had not been raked clean in many years and they looked great afterwards. The Taylor Court garden was really overgrown and the volunteer who tried to manage it really appreciated the help, the students turned it from a jungle into a clean, enjoyable community garden.”

Written by Vania Galicia