Cara Marek got to dress casually and spend her afternoon outside — all while she was still on the clock at work.
Marek, who works at Van Meter Industrial, is one of more than 1,200 volunteers from 60 companies who for United Way’s annual Day of Caring on Thursday. Workers spread out to 45 different nonprofits in Eastern Iowa to clean, paint, and build.
Participating companies pay worker wages for the time spent volunteering. United Way officials estimate that works out to more than $150,000 in labor from local businesses. This is the 13th year the local United Way chapter has hosted the all-day event.
Marek spent her volunteer hours Thursday at Miracles in Motion, a ranch outside Swisher that offers horse riding classes to people with disabilities. She got a little bit messy with the fence she was painting — splattering white paint on her shirt and hair — but she didn’t seem to mind.
“Our company really focuses on volunteering and really encourages us to do these things,” Marek said, adding the company will pay employees for one day off to volunteer each year. Van Meter employees donate 7,000 hours to dozens of groups in Iowa each year.
For the nonprofits on the receiving end of Day of Caring, the experience is even more valuable.
Miracles in Motion has about 16 horses and serves more than 150 students each year. The organization has a committed group of more than a hundred volunteers, but those people are tied up with operating the equestrian programs. Organizers said that sometimes leaves miscellaneous projects like fence-painting and weed-pulling at the wayside.
Another volunteer from Van Meter, Erica Hunt, said she didn’t know much about Miracles in Motion until Thursday. Opportunities like that, she said, have introduced her to area nonprofits.
“I think it’s great that we get opportunities to come out and give back and learn more about the organizations that are out there,” she said.