Posted on October 25, 2023
By Caitlan Butler
Managing Editor/El Dorado News-Times
United Way of Union County’s annual Celebration of Caring was held Thursday, bringing volunteers from some of the area’s largest corporations to the nonprofit’s partner agencies to give back to the community.
Nine local businesses signed up to help out Thursday, bringing somewhere around 100 volunteers to 10 of the United Way’s local partner agencies.
“It’s been very good, we’ve had a ton of turnout,” United Way Board member Eric Smith said early Thursday afternoon. “This is all to improve the community we live in and build relationships.”
On Thursday morning, a team of Chemours employees got busy building a new, paved path at the South Arkansas Developmental Center to help the pre-schoolers there, some of whom are developmentally or physically disabled, get easier access to a gazebo in the center’s outdoor play area.
“It’s been very hard, because we had nothing but grass,” said Cecilia Gaskin, a human resources coordinator at the center. “They are doing a wonderful job. They’re making it safer, easier.”
Matt Miller, one of the Chemours volunteers, said it was important to him and his company to do something that would benefit local children.
“We’re just trying to make it easier on the kids,” he said. “We want to do what’s needed in the community.”
In addition to the new pathway, the volunteers revamped the outdoor play area and did some landscaping at the center, said Stacey Stephens, also of Chemours.
“I think this is a valuable part of what we can do for the community. It’s a simple way to give back,” she said. “Days like today allow us to take a break from our normal jobs, while helping the organizations that need it.”
Gaskin said their work will make a big difference at the South Arkansas Developmental Center.
“This is surely needed, and they’re helping us to keep our children safe while they play and do what they need to do,” she said.
Meanwhile, teams from First Financial Bank, Simmons Bank, Clean Harbors, Roseburg Forest Products, LSB Industries, NexANS AmerCable and South Arkansas Regional Hospital (SARH) visited HOPE Landing, the Salvation Army, Champagnolle Landing, the South Arkansas Children’s Coalition office, Camp Wotapi, the Boys and Girls Club of El Dorado and the De Soto Area Council office, respectively, for other projects.
Alexis Jacobs-Jones, director of marketing at SARH, said volunteers from the hospital got started bright and early at the De Soto Area Council office for the Boy Scouts of El Dorado.
“We’re giving back to the community how we want to, how we said we would,” Jacobs-Jones said, referencing the hospital’s recent re-branding after the hospital, formerly known as Medical Center of South Arkansas, was purchased by a consortium of local nonprofits and renamed SARH. “We get our hands dirty in a whole other way at the hospital, but we can also do landscaping!”
Danna Taylor, interim president at the hospital, said the Celebration of Caring was a good opportunity for the hospital to show the community that its employees care.
“We wanted an opportunity to give back to the community,” Taylor said. “And the United Way has so many agencies.”
She said volunteers from the hospital plan to return to the Boy Scouts office to do additional work soon, as well.
At the Union County Animal Protection Society’s Adoption Center on Main Street, volunteers from Summit Utilities built shelves and closet spaces in an outdoor shed, installed lights in the shed and yard, repaired and repainted doorways and walls and did some landscaping.
“We had more people that wanted to help out, but we had to have someone at the station,” laughed Jimmy Kennedy during a mid-day lunch held for volunteers.
Kennedy and Paul Harris, both of Summit, said they hope to continue participating in future Celebrations of Caring.
“We’re just helping out where we’re needed,” said Harris.
Leanne Harrell, executive director of Camp Fire El Dorado, said the work LSB Industries employees did at Camp Wotapi will be a big help as the nonprofit prepares for the annual El Dorado Haunt, which is presented by Camp Fire.
“They did a lot of work today and were a lot of fun,” she said. “This really shows how unique El Dorado is with all the nonprofits all working together. It’s not like that in big cities.”
As the leader of one of the United Way’s partner agencies, Harrell said the Celebration of Caring gives her an opportunity to spread awareness about what Camp Fire does while also learning about the businesses in the community.
“I like the fact that I get to meet people and they help us do projects we couldn’t do ourselves,” she said. “To have over 100 volunteers in one day is great.”
Smith said the work volunteers performed on Thursday will be beneficial for people of all ages.
“The agencies we served today, it helps them to better serve their clients, from infants to elder care,” he said. “It helps to raise awareness …, to improve the community we all live in.”
This was the first year in recent memory that the Celebration of Caring wasn’t spearheaded by the late director of the United Way of Union County Alexis Alexander.
“People showed up and showed out,” Smith said. “She would be very proud of everyone’s work.”
The United Way will launch its annual fundraising campaign in the coming weeks as well, he said.
For more information about the United Way of Union County or to get involved, visit unitedwayunioncounty.com.