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Day of Caring volunteers make an impact close to home

By CATHLEEN DRAPER

Published August 18, 2016

“UB is not separate from the community — UB is part of the community.”
President Satish K. Tripathi

Faculty, staff and administrators from across UB’s three campuses came together Wednesday with a single mission in mind: to make a visible impact on the local Buffalo community for the 24th annual United Way Day of Caring.

The Day of Caring — the largest volunteer event in Western New York — gives individuals the opportunity to get involved and make a difference for local non-profits and the populations they serve.

UB employees joined 3,316 volunteers from across Western New York in 164 projects, including painting, landscaping, cleaning up neighborhoods, building playgrounds and picnic benches, and participating in activities or field trips with youths and seniors.

Volunteers gathered at 8 a.m. downtown at the First Niagara Center for breakfast and work assignments before buses took volunteers to their respective worksites across Erie County.

Several UB worksites offered faculty and staff an opportunity to make an impact close to home. A coalition of volunteers set to work at the Gloria J. Parks Community Center, located on Main Street steps from the South Campus, while others got their hands dirty in local community gardens with the help of the University Heights Tool Library.

“UB is not separate from the community — UB is part of the community,” said President Satish K. Tripathi, who joined UB volunteers at one of the community gardens. “It is important for us to know our neighbors, as it is important for the neighbors to know us.

“Our students come and volunteer here — not just today but other times as well — and many of our faculty and staff live in this community.”

“We live here, we draw our students and our faculty from the community,” added Charles F. Zukoski, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, who paid a visit to the Gloria Parks center. “It’s important for us to be a part of the community because we are the Buffalo community.”

The community center serves residents of University Heights and surrounding neighborhoods, offering a variety of programs for youth, adults and seniors, including summer camps, afterschool programs, fitness classes and social events.

Michael Tritto, associate director of human services and operations for the University District Community Development Association (UDCDA), said maintenance projects at the center tend to be put off so that the center’s resources can directly benefit members. UB volunteers at the community center spent the Day of Caring ripping up carpeting in a multi-purpose recreation room and painting.

“When you have an event like this, you’re learning not just what the non-profit organizations are doing, but that there are ways to give back,” Tritto said. “It certainly makes us feel like there’s a lot of support to do the kind of work we do and, in the end, the improvements that are done make the center look a lot more welcoming.”

Christopher Keough, manager at the UB Libraries Annex, has volunteered for the Day of Caring for the past five years. He spent Wednesday painting an office in the Gloria J. Parks Community Center. The facelift will give the center another multi-purpose room to benefit its members.

“Our departments and our supervisors are very generous in allowing us time off to participate and time away from work to volunteer,” he said. “They encourage us.”

Keough said the Day of Caring gives him a chance to give back to the community and become more aware of issues facing Buffalo and its residents.

“You get to see different areas of the city and you hear stories that you weren’t aware of before, and it makes you more compassionate about people,” he said. “It makes you feel good after you volunteer.”

For Deanna Thames, an administrative assistant in UB’s Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach, the Day of Caring “carves out time to do something that matters and to give back.”

She has volunteered for the past six years, and she spent the day with volunteers weeding, mulching and painting a small shed in a local community garden off Tyler Street in University Heights. The garden — built on a once-vacant lot — features raised beds of vegetables, a state-of-the-art rain barrel designed by UB engineering students, and a shaded picnic table.

Tools needed to complete the work in the community garden were provided by the University Heights Tool Library, a non-profit, community-based tool lending library that helps community members maintain their homes and gardens.

“We’re stretching out in the community a lot more; we have more incentives to enhance the area,” Thames said. “We’re just making a big footprint in Buffalo so it’s important for us to be visual.”

Thames, who resides in the Heights, feels more connected to the community after her day in the garden. She was not aware of the lush sanctuary, despite living only a few blocks away.

“I thought I was going to be doing service for others, but I’m also doing a service for me at the same time,” Thames said with a smile.