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Karlie shakes the rake vigorously. She just finished her ninth pile of dried leaves and vines. The tall blonde in jeans and a “LIVE UNITED” tee-shirt moves quickly and never stops raking.

“I can only be here about four hours before I have to be back in the office,” offers Karlie, who never looks up from her rake. “I want to finish this bed before I have to run.” She did not let me divert her from the task at hand. Ahead of her was a half-acre of overgrown landscaping at a local nonprofit that badly needed grooming. “If I don’t do this today, it won’t get done.”

Karlie is one of nearly 1,900 volunteers who came out in the middle of the week, in the middle of October to donate something that is as precious as money: her personal time. United Way’s Day of Caring assembled a small army of caring, giving people who agreed to take several hours out of the their day to paint, haul trash, read to children, help the elderly, provide technology support, sort donated clothing, lift, pull, tug and tote.

This was the 18th year for the mass event that brings together teams from more than 60 companies to serve 170 projects throughout Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. “It does your heart good to see it,” said Diana Baker, CEO of United Way of Tampa Bay. “So many, doing so much for those that need even more.”

All of the nonprofits agree. Resources are so scarce that the work the volunteers accomplish might never get done without their time and talent. Day of Caring volunteers get approximately five years of work done throughout the community in less than eight hours.

Organized by United Way’s HandsOn Tampa Bay, the secret is partnering with regional businesses. “It is more than being a good neighbor,” said Betty Tribble, vice president at United Way. “Smart executives know that the investment is in a critical part of their operations: their own community.”

Betty has been involved with Day of Caring for longer than she would care to admit. “I’ve been around it for quite a few years and I’ve recruited thousands of volunteers. It is satisfying to see their faces year after year. Helping others gets under your skin.”

The list of companies is long.

Diana adds that uniting the corporate arena with the nonprofit environment is part of United Way’s role. It is about how the organization connects Tampa Bay. “Most importantly,” says Baker, “the volunteers become aware that United Way’s goals are deeply involved with education, family financial stability and helping neighborhoods. And as they learn of our Community Impact Agenda, they Often want to do more. We connect them to our strategic projects that yield real community results.”

Day of Caring once again was a major success. But it should not overshadow the day-in, day-out work HandsOn Tampa Bay does all year. While the mega-event is impressive in size and scope, ordinary people quietly step up and do extraordinary work volunteering for projects every week of the year.

“So don’t wait for next year,” reminds Betty as she shoots to the next project site.

For more information on how you or your company can participate in improving our own corner of the world, visit www.UnitedWayTampaBay.org and click on VOLUNTEER at the top of the home page.

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Our volunteers are making some of the hardest decisions they’ll have to make for United Way. Throughout the summer, our partner agencies prepared applications to request funding. Once we received and reviewed the applications, a team of volunteers and staff met with our partner agencies the last two weeks of September to discuss funding for 2011. 

The discussions are frank and tough. Everyone faces challenges and all our partners do good work. I wish we could fund everyone who asks – but since we can’t, the volunteers are charged with making the best decisions they can with the resources (read: dollars) we have.  

You may have seen the article in the St. Petersburg Times Sept. 13 about our priorities. Fox 13 also ran the story the same day. As we discuss funding with the agencies, we try to focus on making the most impact with our dollars. Our research shows that targeted program funding makes a bigger, longer-term impact on the community. Our targets are programs that help children and youth achieve their potential, help working families achieve financial stability, and provide a safety net of food, shelter and other necessities. We’ve also selected areas in Hillsborough and Pinellas who want to work with us to create a more vibrant neighborhood.

Everyone is affected by the economy, including United Way of Tampa Bay and our agency partners. My pledge to you is that we will continue to be good stewards of the dollars you entrust to us and use them for the common good.

Diana Baker, President/CEO

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UNITED WAY SUNCOAST
5201 W. Kennedy Blvd.,
Suite 600 Tampa, FL 33609
Ph. (813) 274-0900
Fax. (813) 228-9549

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