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United Way of Acadiana Mobilizes Volunteers for Annual Day of Action

Original Source - The Advocate
by Jessica Manafi

More than 540 volunteers spent the day Friday promoting healthy, active and budget-conscious lifestyles as part of United Way of Acadiana’s annual Day of Action.

Representatives from local businesses and organizations, like IberiaBank, Cargill Salt and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Black Male Leadership Association, lent a helping hand with a variety of events for children ages 7 to 10.

“There are so many individuals, companies, nonprofits and schools that can use help, and even if just one person gets involved, it can really impact the condition of the entire community,” said Chelsey Roberie, United Way senior volunteer mobilization coordinator.

The event is part of a global Day of Action, in which the nonprofit United Way organizations mobilize thousands of volunteers. Last year, nearly 350 United Way agencies in 14 countries brought people together for projects and activities focused on education, income and health.

Children enrolled in the Lafayette Parish recreational summer camps gathered at various locations throughout Acadiana, including Girard Park, Robicheaux Recreation Center and the newly built Vision of Hope Community Center in Abbeville.

“The kids at these camps are typically coming from low-income neighborhoods,” Roberie said. “They are a prime group of children who are in need of extra assistance with reading, so they get to take home and use the books we are providing to practice reading over the summer.”

Schools and organizations collect the books throughout the year from various book drives and then donate them to United Way.

Budget Buddies was another activity designed to help young children understand the value of money.

“We are helping them understand what it means to have to pay for things, like living expenses, transportation, paying for food and putting money into savings,” said volunteer Michael Price, a Cargill Salt employee. “We try to encourage them to put as much as they can into savings. In the game, they may flip a coin and have to pay for car repairs, which means they have to rework their budget plan.”

“Our budget buddy class is part of the earnings initiative,” Roberie added. “It’s a reflection of our money-smart classes that we host for adults. This is a child’s version of it.”

Children also decorated and filled shoeboxes with personal hygienic and emergency preparedness items for families in shelters, and they participated in a fitness field day project emphasizing the importance of healthy eating and exercising. Both projects were sponsored by Depend, which offered a grant of $5,000 to the local United Way.

“What’s so cool is that (these events) benefit those children who are participating by not only exposing them to more reading and how to handle money, but they are also learning how to give back to kids less fortunate than them,” said Jennifer Raggio, United Way of Acadiana’s director of marketing and communication.

Some of the volunteers also went to local schools like Prairie Elementary and Paul Breaux Middle to help with landscaping, gardening and painting classrooms.

Every four years, Roberie said, the organization tries to re-evaluate and redesign the day’s activities. Next year, she said, she hopes to try a new set of activities, including a “soup day” or a potluck that would involve the children in helping feed others in need.