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Hands Across Rockdale organizers seek projects, volunteers

Volunteers help build gardening boxes at the Rockdale Career Academy during the 2012 Hands Across Rockdale event.

Volunteers help build gardening boxes at the Rockdale Career Academy during the 2012 Hands Across Rockdale event.

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A Hands Across Rockdale volunteer waters newly installed vegetable gardens at the Olivia Haydel Senior Center during last year's community service event.

Know of a school that could use some playground improvements? How about a nonprofit building in need of a new coat of paint? Or a senior citizen whose yard needs an overhaul?

Then consider submitting a request for assistance to Hands Across Rockdale, an effort in which volunteers perform community service projects.

This year's Hands Across Rockdale event is scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon April 13. The deadline to submit project applications, which can be found at www.handsacrossrockdale.org, is Feb. 15. The primary parameter for a project is that it can be completed in four hours.

"We're really emphasizing projects this year and encouraging organizations to submit whether it's small or large," said Earl Wise, co-chair of Hands Across Rockdale.

Hands Across Rockdale is an all-volunteer community service day created by students in Leadership Rockdale classes, a leadership program sponsored by the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce. The inaugural Hands Across Rockdale day occurred in spring 2012.

Co-chair of this year's effort Karen Benton said the event evolved into a much more significant effort than expected. The 2012 Hands Across Rockdale drew 350 volunteers who completed 23 projects.

"We quickly realized we had something here," she said.

Volunteers installed a ramp at a health clinic for the uninsured, cleaned pens and landscaped the front entrance for Rockdale Animal Control, built an outdoor storage facility at a transition home for single mothers, cut down shrubbery and cleaned up yards for senior citizens, and painted a school's outdoor storage container with the school colors.

They also built boxes for a garden at the senior center, picked up trash around a lake and painted office space in a building which housed a nonprofit.

"You'd be surprised, when you get those people out there, the energy they had in tackling the projects," Benton said.

Volunteers ranged in age from children to senior citizens and individuals from the community, families, church members, service club members, students, Scout troops and businesses all pitched in.

"A lot of people want to do something and they don't know exactly how to do it. This is an organized way to do something for the community," Benton said.

Benton said the goal this year is to complete 40 projects, which means the organization will have to grow its volunteer base. Anyone can volunteer and registration forms can be found on the Hands Across Rockdale website. Children under age 17 must be accompanied by an adult. Volunteers can choose their projects and are expected to invest four hours.

Last year, Wise, along with his wife and son and about 20 other volunteers, worked on the grounds at Rockdale Cares, planting trees, landscaping along a cement path and cleaning windows.

"I got sucked into the energy of the day," said Wise. "You feel good about what you've done. You've helped in a small way and in the overall picture, a big way for the community."

Benton stationed herself at the Rockdale Career Academy, the hub of the Hands Across Rockdale effort last year. She said volunteers gained a great sense of satisfaction.

"There were a lot of smiles on people's faces that day," Benton said.

Benton said volunteers from last year have already asked her for the date for this year's event so that they can put it on their calendars.

"Rockdale is the second smallest county in the state but we have the biggest heart," she said.