The sea of white t-shirts proclaiming LIVE UNITED captured the essence of  United Way of North Central Massachusetts’ 14th Annual Day of Caring, which got underway at the Four Points Sheraton in Leominster Thursday morning. Nearly 500 volunteers spent the day helping 33 nonprofit organizations repair, clean and spruce up their facilities.

“The majority of these projects would not get done if it wasn’t for the volunteers that make this day possible, commented Rich Palmer, executive director of the Montachusett Regional YMCA and chair of the Day of Caring. “You are all living united because you are part of the change we want to see in our community.” Mr. Palmer also thanked the nearly 1,600 students from Leominster Public Schools, who were scheduled to work on school-based projects during the day.

Nonprofit organizations and municipalities are asked to identify projects that they can’t get done due to personnel and budget constraints according to Mr. Palmer. This year, they received 53 requests.

United Way of North Central Massachusetts’ Karin Oliveira (left) and Phil Grzewinski (right) present United Way Community Builders awards for volunteer service to Steve Weaver of Lunenburg, MA;  Susan Heinz of Shirley, MA; Normand Bettez of Gardner, MA; and Charlotte Rheault of Swanzey, NH at  its Day of Caring kickoff event held Thursday at the Four Points Sheraton, Leominster, MA.

The assignments    included apple picking, packing and sorting at Friends of  Sholan Farms in Leominster, painting three hallways for House of Peace and Education in Gardner and cleaning 22 windows at Groton Council On Aging/Senior Center.

Patrick Muldoon, president and CEO of HealthAlliance and this year’s United Way campaign chair, also kicked off United Way of North Central Massachusetts’ annual campaign drive during the morning breakfast event. The money raised is used to support 46 programs in the area of education, income, health and safety net services.

Before the volunteers headed out to their projects, Karin Oliveira, director of United Way’s Community Builders recognized four individuals for their extraordinary contributions to the community.  Ms. Oliveira noted that Community Builders is an initiative to promote community involvement, which is sponsored by Unitil and Bemis.

Charlotte Rheault of Swanzey, NH was recognized for serving on numerous committees at the Clark Memorial YMCA in Winchendon.

Serving on Gardner Community Action Council board of directors, Normand Bettez of Gardner, MA was lauded for finding the organization a new home, carpentry work, painting and fundraising.  In addition he also finds time to volunteer at the St. Vincent DePaul Society at Holy Rosary Church.

Susan Heinz of Shirley, MA was thanked for her numerous volunteer roles; serving as the president of the Shirley Educational Foundation, organizing and coaching the Little Kickers soccer program and most notably for launching Playboard of Shirley, an initiative to give kids safe places to play.  Her efforts garnered national recognition from the Kaboom organization as a “Playful City USA”.

With over 40 years of community service, Steve Weaver of Lunenburg, MA also received the Community Builder award for volunteering as a coach for Bolton Youth Hockey, Bolton Youth Soccer, Leominster Dec Hockey, Bolton Little League and Pop Warner football league. He has also volunteered for the Lancaster Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, United Way of North Central Massachusetts, Salvation Army and Fitchburg Community Lion’s Club.

Following the completion of the projects, a barbeque was held at Saima Park in Fitchburg, MA.  SimplexGrinnell was the major sponsor of the Day of Caring.

Ken Labombard from Unitil stains the porch of Our Father’s House in Fitchburg as part of United Way of North Central Massachusetts’ Day of Caring.  Over 2,500 volunteers completed 53 projects for 32 nonprofit agencies during the daylong event.