It is often said children are the future, but 9-year-old Emme Davis is not satisfied with simply being the future — she wants to have an immediate impact.
By dedicating hours with her Girl Scouts troop and donating paintings to help food pantries every winter, Davis has already spent years of her early adolescence proactively dedicating herself to building a better world.
“I like volunteering because it means I get to help with making sure that people have things that they need to have if it's hard for them to get them by themselves,” Davis said. “It's something you can do that's fun and helps people.”
Not everyone grew up dedicating playtime to philanthropy, but it’s never too late to start making a positive change in the community.
For over 25 years, United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County (UWHR) has hosted an annual Day of Caring so everyone can experience the joys of philanthropy in a day of volunteerism and education addressing the region’s most pressing needs. This year’s event is Wednesday, and people in the community are invited to connect with local nonprofits and register for volunteer opportunities and workshops.
“A big focus for today is giving people the opportunity to act. ... After participating in a workshop, you learn about an issue and then hear about actions you can do to help,” said UWHR Executive Director Laura Toni-Holsinger.
From cleaning up campgrounds to lending a hand at a thrift store, no task is too big or too small to make a change. This year’s event is stacked full of events with families in mind, such as mindfulness exercise workshops for middle schoolers, hosted by Boys & Girls Clubs of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.
Davis’ family is serving as chairs of the United Way Giving Campaign, UWHR’s annual fundraiser that also kicks off Wednesday.
Through community contributions and organizational partnerships, the Davis family has actively contributed time and resources to the area for years. Davis’ mom, Alysia, first connected with UWHR through work and said she has seen the positive impacts and successful model of the agency in action.
“They give so much individual support to our community as well, so it's really important for me to equip them as much as I can and encourage everyone else to support them, so we can continue to make sure our community is able to thrive and we can get through the other side of this pandemic stronger together,” she said.
During the kick-off of Day of Caring, Emme Davis is leading a dialogue with this year’s keynote speaker Mari Copeny, better known as Little Miss Flint.
At 8-years old, Copeny gripped the nation’s attention when she wrote a letter to then-President Barack Obama, challenging him to witness the water crisis in her community of Flint, Mich. Now 13, she continues to grab national acclaim as a voice for the future, drawing attention to further examples of environmental racism across the U.S. and raising over $500,000 for her Flint Kids projects.
Copeny’s virtual speech will begin at 8:30 a.m., followed by a Q&A facilitated by Emma Davis with the teen activist.
“We’re hoping this opens up opportunities for young people to get more involved, but they also obviously don’t need us. I’ve seen young people in our community speaking up and taking action,” Toni-Holsinger said. “I think she’s a really amazing person, and I think getting to hear from her is going to be very inspiring.”
Big, small, old and new community partners have posted checklists of chores volunteers can help complete, leaving time and energy for each nonprofit to dedicate valuable resources to their missions. Toni-Holsinger said this year’s schedule of projects and workshops focuses on equity, inclusion and COVID-19 recovery.
Adagio House is one of the new community partners participating in Day of Caring still looking for help on a project. Adagio House is a trauma-informed therapy, counseling and support center for caregivers and their loved ones. Since 2018, the nonprofit has provided over 70% of sessions for free or reduced cost.
Founder April Hepler said the staff has worked diligently to beautify the center and expand outreach so more clients can feel at peace and secure at Adagio House, but there is one task that simply has not even started.
“Adagio House really has several projects that are ongoing right now and probably the biggest one or most daunting is our big, ugly brown building that needs a fresh coat of paint,” Hepler said.
Whether busy providing additional services during the pandemic, low on staff or limited on funds, many nonprofits in the region have felt overwhelmed during the pandemic. Hepler said that is why volunteers will provide invaluable time with each undertaken project.
“We have found ourselves incredibly busy during this pandemic trying to take care of ourselves, each other and our clients as mental health needs increase and we simply haven't had time to work on the outside much,” Hepler said about the unfulfilled need to repaint the building.
For Day of Caring, helping hands can transform the dreary, dark panels of the center into a lighter shade so the exterior can look as welcoming as the services provided within.
Additionally, Hepler said the opportunity to work with new volunteers allows for the organization to plant firmer roots and extend a warm welcome to people unfamiliar with its mission.
“I’m really hopeful people will learn about us because we’re still fairly young and are getting the word out we exist,” she said.
United Way’s Director of Business Engagement Amanda Leech said volunteer sign-ups have been low this year because people are unable to plan in advance and business partners who traditionally sent teams are now working online and unable to make time for in-person projects. Toni-Holsinger said UWHR is working to provide virtual opportunities when able, but any volunteers who can dedicate a few hours of physical labor are appreciated.
“It’s not what we can put resources towards, it’s what those nonprofits can put those resources to. … It’s a nice way to connect with a big community,” she said.
Regardless of the turnout, Hepler said she already feels the care of the community through UWHR’s support.
“I'm in awe of the way they are able to create meaningful connections in our community and help all these different nonprofits through this day, and I'm excited to be a part of it for the first time and get to see all that happens, all that comes from it,” Hepler said.
To learn more about United Way’s Day of Caring or sign up for a workshop or project, visit uwhr.org/DOC.