This week, April 18-24, is National Volunteer Week, an opportunity to recognize the impact of volunteer service and thank volunteers for lending their time and talents to support causes they care about. National Volunteer Week is an annual event led by Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service. In honor of National Volunteer Week, Didlake is kicking off a series of articles recognizing its Day Support Program participants for their volunteer work and our community partners for their tireless efforts to make a difference in the local community. We hope these stories will inspire and mobilize others to take action and build a better future for all.
Day Support Program Participants Make an Impact as Volunteers
Didlake’s Day Support Program participants are making an impact in the local community while building valuable skills as volunteers for a variety of nonprofits throughout Virginia. During FY2020, 85 percent of program participants engaged in volunteer opportunities and logged a collective total of 25,447 volunteer hours.
Over the years, Didlake has volunteered for more than 20 local nonprofit agencies, such as health and rehabilitation centers, animal shelters and several food banks.
Volunteer Work that Matches Individuals Interests
“We do a variety of volunteer work to match the interests of individuals in our program,” said Emily Theimer, Program Director, Community Services.
For example, an individual who likes cats and dogs might be matched to volunteer at Paws for Seniors, the Fauquier SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) or an animal shelter. At Paws for Seniors of Bealeton, Va., which rescues and rehabilitates senior pets, Didlake volunteers spend time with the animals to help socialize them. Didlake volunteers at Fauquier SPCA also interact with animals, as well as organize the stock/donation room, clean windows, sort newspapers, fold linens and clean the laundry room.
Beautifying Our Community
Didlake coordinates many opportunities for individuals who are history buffs, or who enjoy the great outdoors and gardening. Didlake volunteers help maintain the historic grounds at Rippon Lodge, one of the oldest homes in Prince William County. Built in 1747 and revived in the 1920s into a Colonial Revival, the house sits on 43 acres, including a cemetery, formal garden and walking trails. Didlake volunteers perform grounds keeping and gardening services as needed.
In nearby Dumfries, Didlake volunteers manage a garden around another historic Prince William County home – the Weems-Botts house. Also built in 1747, Weems-Botts was restored and converted into a museum in 1976. Today, it provides a window into the past with rooms decorated in 18th, 19th and 20th century styles. The house also often appears on lists of the most haunted places in Virginia.
Didlake volunteers also help keep Veterans Memorial Park beautiful by removing trash weekly for Keep Prince William Beautiful, a nonprofit environmental organization that educates and inspires people to be environmental stewards. Through its Adopt-a-Spot Program, community members or organizations commit to keeping their “adopted” area litter-free, as Didlake has done for Woodbridge’s Veterans Memorial Park since 2013.
Supporting People in Need
Day Support Program participants support people in need through volunteer efforts with several organizations. At the Bull Run Unitarian Universalists food pantry in Manassas, volunteers help get free food to families and individuals in need by unloading trucks of produce, stocking the pantry, breaking down boxes and maintaining the waiting room. At the House of Mercy food pantry, volunteers help food donors unload their cars. They also fill bags with different types of foods to be delivered to assisted living facilities or placed on the pantry shelves. Finally, the volunteers split 50-pound bags of rice and beans into quart size portions, vacuum seal the bags and place them on the pantry shelves.
Didlake also volunteers at House of Mercy’s thrift store, where volunteers organize clothes, hang them on racks organized by store section and deliver them to the corresponding section of the store. Volunteers also organize and categorize donations at a thrift store in Bealeton, Va., Noah’s Ark.
As bell ringers for the Salvation Army in Woodbridge, Culpeper and Warrenton, volunteers raise money for local families during the holiday season. Didlake volunteers at the Habitat for Humanity ReStores in Manassas and Roanoke sweep, dust & polish furniture, price merchandise, stock shelves and organize items. Habitat ReStores are independently owned reuse stores operated by local Habitat for Humanity organizations that accept donations and sell home improvement items to the public at a fraction of the retail price.
“By volunteering, our program participants gain new perspective of their community, develop valuable work skills and feel empowered by making a difference in the lives of others,” Theimer said.
Connecting with Senior Citizens
Didlake also makes a difference in the lives of Virginia’s senior citizens through volunteer work at the Fauquier Senior Center in Warrenton, Culpeper Health and Rehabilitation Center, Orange Senior Center and Birmingham Green in Manassas. At the first three locations, volunteers prepare and lead interactive games or crafts, clean up after the activity, and sometimes help set-up and serve lunch. At Birmingham Green, Didlake volunteers socialize with residents and staff, roll silverware into napkins for lunch and distribute ice to residents for their water containers.
Didlake volunteers also support fire fighters at the Remington Volunteer Fire Department by cleaning the floors and windows, organizing the station and taking out the trash.
Volunteering Improves Independent Living and Community Engagement
Regardless of the type of work, volunteering is a major component of Didlake’s Day Support Program, which provides opportunities to improve independent living skills and engage with the community. The program is customized by individual, and along with volunteering, may include activities such as going to the gym, taking cooking classes, and shopping.
Didlake, which opened its first Day Support Program in Manassas in 1996, now operates five Day Support Programs, including three in Prince William County, one in Fauquier County and one in Roanoke. Altogether, the programs support 170 individuals.
“Volunteering is often where we start to build skills that they might need in employment,” Theimer said. “A lot of what we try to do is integrate the individuals into the community, all the while teaching the community that they can do anything anyone else can do. We typically volunteer alongside other volunteers who also want to give back to the community. It teaches our individuals how to interact and socialize, and teaches the community how to be more comfortable with people with disabilities.”
*Editor’s Note: Day Support Program participants have continued to volunteer throughout the pandemic, although some volunteer opportunities are temporarily paused. Didlake plans to resume volunteer work at all sites as soon as it is safe to do so.