Clad in light-blue T-shirts, nearly 450 Acadiana-area residents formed 25 volunteer teams Friday to give back to their communities in Acadia, St. Martin, Acadiana and Vermilion parishes.
During United Way of Acadiana’s Day of Action, the teams did everything from teaching kids how to make healthy lifestyle and wise spending choices to putting together care packages of personal items for the region’s homeless population.
The volunteers fanned out to such places as Girard Park, Breaux Bridge Elementary School and Robicheaux Recreation Center. Summer camps across the Acadiana area partnered with United Way of Acadiana to bring a plethora of activities to the facilities.
“Our issues that we focus on are education, earnings and essentials, and health falls into that category,” said Keler Williams, United Way of Acadiana’s vice president of resources.
The program is part of United Way’s worldwide Day of Action, which traditionally takes place on or near June 21.
According to its website, United Way comprises communities on every continent except Antarctica, with 2.9 million volunteers teaming up to enrich children’s lives.
As part of a health field day outside Breaux Bridge Elementary School, volunteers guided children through obstacle courses. Rambunctious elementary school students jumped through hoops and weaved through cones. At the course’s halfway point, runners had to choose healthy items to bring back to their team bags.
Thomas Walker, a Lafayette sheriff’s deputy, said the obstacle courses inspire friendly competition and strengthen communication skills.
“It gets the kids to interact and doesn’t have them staying at home just being idle. ... They can come out and be a part and be able to socialize among other kids,” he said.
Inside, volunteers unfurled wrapping paper and helped children organize and decorate boxes of hygiene projects for area shelters as part of the “Shoebox Project.”
“The shoeboxes are going to shelters, nonprofits that serve the homeless community or that have individual shelters,” she said.
Banks and volunteers also taught kids how to save money and spend it responsibly. Susan Allardyce, assistant vice president and marketing coordinator at Home Bank, said no child is too young to learn about personal finance.
“Learning about personal finance is important at any age, but when we can work with the child, this little activity may stay with them forever,” Allardyce said. “As they start earning money in just a few short years, they may start making smarter money choices because they think, ‘Oh, I may need to save a little; my car might break down,’ or, ‘I may need to save a little for something special that I want.’ ”
Other activities included the construction of Little Free Libraries, house-shaped containers for community book exchanges; school supply drives; and reading enrichment activities.
Additionally, 10 classrooms received makeovers as part of United Way of Acadiana’s Apple Giver program. Nicole Rebstock, senior workforce enforcement and campaign manager, paired with Target to spruce up an Edgar Martin Middle School classroom.
“We’re taking out everything that appeared to be 125 years old,” she joked. “We’re going to do some chalkboard paint and accent wall, reorganize all the books and make sure that when the teacher gets back to the classroom, it’s a nice environment.”
Rebstock said the Apple Givers program rewards teachers who give to United Way of Acadiana.
“This is how we recognize them, and Target has been very generous in their personal time but also their donations as well,” she said.
Michael Price, a Cargill Salt employee, said he has enjoyed the experiences the United Way of Acadiana Day of Action programs create.
“We work for a company that promotes doing these sorts of things, and it’s good to give back to the community and teach kids about real-life situations,” he said.