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Day of Caring marches on

DLHS baseball players TJ Manning, Andy Pederson and Brett Provo helped clean up the bleachers at Washington Ballpark during the United Way Day of Caring Wednesday afternoon. The crew filled nearly half of the garbage can with sunflower seed husks from the stands. (Brian Basham/Record)1 / 3
A group of students walk along rain-soaked Langford Street in Detroit Lakes after cleaning a yard during Wednesday's United Way of Caring. (Brian Basham/Record)2 / 3
A group of boys led by DLHS teacher Steve Fode mulched paths at Sucker Creek Nature Preserve during Wednesday's United Way of Caring. (Photo submitted by Sally Hauskens)3 / 3

It's been more than 10 years since Detroit Lakes High School students began participating in the United Way Day of Caring community service project, and in all that time, the annual event has gone without a drop of rain -- until this Wednesday.

"It was wet!" said LuAnn Porter, executive director of the United Way of Becker County.

The wind and rain prompted both Lake Park-Audubon and Frazee-Vergas to postpone their Day of Caring projects -- but not Detroit Lakes.

When Porter and DLHS Day of Caring coordinator Nikki Martinez asked the student leaders whether they wanted to postpone the event, the students responded with, "Let's go!"

And go they did, for three solid hours, from 9 a.m. to noon.

"They got pretty creative with their garbage bags," Porter joked, noting that some of the students wore the plastic bags as "pants, raincoats, hats -- you name it."

But all of the nearly 1,000 students, faculty and community volunteers came dressed for the weather, Martinez noted.

"We knew we had to do it -- it's such a busy month, with everybody scheduling activities," she said, and postponing the Day of Caring would have created some major scheduling headaches.

In addition, Porter said, all the meals for breakfast and lunch had already been prepared and delivered in preparation for the event. The local Salvation Army traditionally prepares and serves all the meals for the Day of Caring luncheon, she explained, and the school district and United Way also provide breakfast for the volunteers.

And despite the soggy weather, the volunteer crews completed all 155 projects they had scheduled for that day, Porter said.

"The elements were totally against us, but the attitude of the kids was great," Martinez said. "They just went out and did their thing -- they were like soldiers out in the field, doing what they had to do. And I didn't hear a great deal of negativity from anyone (about the weather)."

"They were wet and dirty when they came back, but they were all smiling," Porter said, adding that the senior citizens of the community who were the recipients of the students' generosity were extremely appreciative.

Martinez said that because of the rain, they weren't able to make all the lawns look as neat and clean as they normally do, "but we did get to every site."

In fact, Porter said, she heard back from one of the recipients who hadn't been there that morning -- because she was sure they wouldn't go out in such bad weather.

"She couldn't believe it," Porter said. "She said she never expected to come home and see her yard cleaned -- they even stacked the leaf bags under the trees so they wouldn't get wet."

Considering the weather, the day's activities all went smoothly, Martinez added. Even the afternoon celebration was relocated indoors with a minimum of fuss.

"The adjustments were made, and it all worked," Porter said.

Martinez also noted that many of the nearly 50 community volunteers who showed up for the day's work were former students, continuing the tradition of service that meant so much to them in high school.

"Charity has such a huge snowball effect," she added.

For instance, the free water that was donated to the volunteers by the Salvation Army had been left over from the sand-bagging efforts of the Fargo-Moorhead community in preparation for floods that never reached the levels they had feared.

And the chips that were left over from Wednesday's lunch were in turn donated to the Boys & Girls Club for the kids to enjoy.

"It truly is about more than the work," Porter added, noting that the seniors whose homes are on the project list anticipate the students' visit eagerly, even preparing snacks for them to enjoy when they're finished.

And the eagerness is reciprocated by the students as well. "All this energy they have is so focused... they're ready to go. It always amazes me how much they get done," Porter said.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454