200 volunteers spruce up school
By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Kristen Traicoff and Sean McDowell call themselves the "volunteer union."
They enjoy working on community projects even if that means giving up some of their free time. For Traicoff, a crisis counselor at The Spring domestic abuse shelter, and McDowell, a loan officer with Suncoast School Credit Union, the rewards are worth it.
Under a blazing sun Saturday morning, they joined about 200 other volunteers in an enthusiastic renovation effort at Alexander Elementary School. The Hillsborough school district just finished an expansion of the Lois Avenue facility.
"I think the encouraging part is how many people come out," Traicoff, 22, said while she and McDowell, 27, took a break in the air-conditioned front office. "You get a sense of the community helping the community."
In the past two years Alexander has grown by 12 classrooms, a media center and several covered walkways, principal Elaine Diaz said. But recent construction, along with regular wear and tear, left the school looking a little shabby. It also wasn't clear when the district would be able to send workers to clean up the mess.
About two weeks ago, Diaz learned of an offer to help from Hands On Tampa. The group, a volunteer organization that just merged with the United Way and runs weekly projects in the area, had people waiting to help.
When Hands On Tampa, which is celebrating its seventh anniversary, arrived Saturday, the school was ready with paint, brushes, shrubs and mulch purchased with leftover construction money, Diaz said. "Isn't it great?" she said while walking the grounds amid dozens of volunteers. "We're so excited."
Most of the volunteers came from local companies: Coca-Cola Enterprises, Time Customer Service and Accenture.
Coca-Cola has a year-old program aimed at expanding its community outreach, said Tom Warren, financial manager for distribution for the company's statewide operations. "We ended up turning people away for this," he said.
Amy Frank, a legal secretary, was glad she made the cut. Wielding a long-handled paint roller over a smudgy hallway wall, Frank was participating in her third effort, including redoing an elderly woman's home. "It was a good feeling," she said.
While Lorena Rivas, Hands On Tampa's 24-year-old program manager, talked with Accenture partner Audrey Harrell about expanding corporate volunteer efforts in Pinellas County, Jennifer Mendez showed off the future.
The 10-year-old, spreading mulch around new planted shrubs, came with her father, Edgar Mendez, an Accenture analyst.
"I like doing things like this," she said. If not for the project, "I'd probably be home watching television."
-- Josh Zimmer can be reached at (813) 269-5314.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
North of Tampa