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James Madison University softball pitcher Odicci Alexander signs autographs for young fans in June after returning from the Women’s College World Series. Alexander will introduce the keynote speaker for next week’s United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County Day of Action.

For the last 25 years, the United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County has hosted Day of Caring as a way to invite the community to participate in the annual day of volunteerism.

For the 2021 event, however, it has been rebranded.

For several years, the event has been focused on caring about the community while giving back to those in need, said Laura Toni-Holsinger, executive director of United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

“We are still infusing all of those really important things, but we are wanting people to feel they are being called to act,” she said.

On Wednesday, the local United Way will kick off its Day of Action — bringing on a literal sense to the call to action.

“Regardless of the name, this has always been a day that has really been a true point of engagement in the community, and we always wanted to honor that in the name,” Toni-Holsinger said.

Toni-Holsinger said that by changing the name from Day of Caring to Day of Action, it could lead community members to become inspired to volunteer outside of the annual event. And for those participating on Wednesday, inspiration will come from the keynote speaker.

Robert Anthony is a motivational and public speaker who shares his personal experience with overcoming adversity with a physical disability.

When Anthony was 10 months old, his right leg below the knee was amputated due to fibular hemimelia. As a child, he was the victim of a house fire, abuse and was forced to go through the obstacles of being disabled.

Anthony learned over time he could turn the negatives in his life into positives, and went on to becoming a U.S. National Amputee Soccer Team player in the Paralympics.

“His whole theme is overcoming adversity,” Toni-Holsinger said. “He is a Paralympic athlete, so he talks about his physical struggles and how he has overcome that with sports.”

Anthony founded the organization Limb Possible as a way to remind others overcoming adversities that anything is possible.

Toni-Holsinger said Anthony’s keynote speech will be available to view virtually and will start at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

“We look forward to hearing some inspiration from him,” she said. “Also, introducing Robert is going to be Odicci Alexander, the James Madison University softball player.”

Alexander, a former JMU softball pitcher, threw more than 1,000 pitches during the NCAA Tournament and guided the Dukes to their first-ever Women’s College World Series in 2021. Alexander signed a pro contract with USSSA Pride following the 2021 season and was named the National Pitcher of the Year by Softball America.

With both Alexander and Anthony providing pre-event remarks, Toni-Holsinger said it will be a way to get volunteers ready to give back to their community.

“Honestly, I think this is exactly what everyone needs with all the stress and fatigue going on with COVID,” she said. “It will be great to kick off the day with inspiration from two people who have done a lot of good in their lives and for other people.”

Toni-Holsinger said there are more than 200 people volunteering for the Day of Action, and plenty of spots are still waiting to be filled. As of Thursday, there are roughly 200 volunteering and workshop slots available.

Volunteers can sign up to participate in one of 28 available projects, Toni-Holsinger said, including moving the administrative offices of The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County to a different location at the Lucy F. Simms Center and cleaning the Gus Buses.

Toni-Holsinger said most projects center around Harrisonburg City and Rockingham County public schools as many elementary schools are hosting cleanup projects.

At Keister Elementary School, volunteers will clean up the school’s nature trail in preparation for the fall season. At Bluestone Elementary School, help is needed to remove weeds in several garden beds and spruce up the area.

One project that will require multiple volunteers will be held at the Adagio House, which is a trauma-informed therapy, counseling and support center for caregivers and their loved ones.

Toni-Holsinger said the Adagio House is in need of exterior painting, and the project is likely to last all day.

Toni-Holsinger also said another project that will need extra hands is the cleanup of the historically Black cemetery known as Spring Creek Negro Cemetery, according to the event’s website.

The cemetery is the final resting place of the first Black officer with the Harrisonburg Police Department, Lt. Leon Byrd. Volunteers will be asked to remove overgrown grass and brush from the area and assist with cleaning efforts. Volunteers with a vehicle capable of transporting debris off-site are welcome to participate.

Anyone interested in volunteering for Day of Action can sign up on the United Way’s website up until the event begins Wednesday morning. Projects being held indoors will require volunteers to wear face masks.

“A lot of these are organizations have been working so hard, especially throughout the pandemic, and their service has been needed even more and I think anything we can do as a community to demonstrate our support and let them know we appreciate them and want to help in any way we can, I think that is a really nice morale booster for hardworking staff members,” Toni-Holsinger said.

Contact Jessica Wetzler at 574-6279 or jwetzler@dnronline.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @wetzler_jessica

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