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April 28, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Our Town: Trying a little kindness Our Town: Trying a little kindness (April 28, 2004)

by Jocelyn Dong

A lot of people in town have been busy over the past few weeks -- not just carrying out the usual responsibilities that make up the fabric of our lives, but doing good works.

At Community Association for Rehabilitation (C.A.R.) on Middlefield Road, a nonprofit serving developmentally delayed kids and adults, members of the Rotary Club of Palo Alto, led by Art Stauffer, last week prepared the administration building for a fresh coat of paint, new carpet and new cabinetry. It marked the first time in 20 years the organization's headquarters got some the attention.

One C.A.R. client, confused about why furniture had been removed and strangers were buzzing about, asked Executive Director Lynda Steele for an explanation. Steele explained how the volunteers wanted to help to refresh the center, which has become a major part of the lives of thousands of families.

"Wow," the client replied incredulously. "They're doing that for us ?"

Indeed, community members -- some of whom had never visited C.A.R. before -- were "doing that" as part of the 15th annual Rebuilding Together day, sponsored by a nationwide nonprofit of the same name. About 4,000 good-hearted people turned out last Saturday for renovation projects from Sunnyvale to Daly City, fixing up 19 community centers and 53 time-worn homes.

Throughout the nation, many thousands more volunteers did likewise through their local Rebuilding Together chapters.

The recent acts of kindness haven't focused solely on renovating buildings, either. Also on Saturday, in honor of Earth Day, a group of volunteers worked on Arastradero Preserve Trail, an event organized by local environmental group Acterra.

And in conjunction with National Volunteer Week, Sun Microsystems employees left their work behind last week to help others in a range of capacities, from serving food to the homeless to giving blood.

The springtime flurry of generosity included gifts of money as well as time. Last Thursday, the Weekly handed out $263,900 to 56 nonprofit agencies, to support projects serving families and children. The funds came from nearly 700 community members, plus several local foundations, through the Weekly's annual Holiday Fund -- now in its 10th year.

Giving a day or a modest donation now and then may seem like small potatoes to some. But as the C.A.R. client showed, the impact can't be understated. Steele said the physical improvements were the smallest part of the helpers' gift. The big part is the sense that the community really cared about the often-challenging but vital work going on there.

"The spirit of it comes across," she said. "Our clients, staff and board members feel uplifted."

In East Palo Alto, Joyce Williams recently reflected on how Rebuilding Together volunteers improved her life immeasurably. Last year, they descended on her home -- with its leaky roof, non-working oven, electrical problems and other elements of disrepair -- and gave it a complete makeover.

She said the volunteers' help was a life-saver, after a roofer she had hired months before had swindled her, leaving her home defenseless against the winter storms.

"It was horrific. Then Rebuilding Together came in and made everything right," Williams said, chatting on the phone in her snug home. "This past year has been a wonderful time for me."

Volunteering can be a wonderful time for those "doing the work" as well. Palo Alto resident Tom Ashton, painting C.A.R. walls a pastel yellow on Saturday, said he plans to come back for more.

"You get a good feeling in your soul and in your heart. It's personally rewarding," he said of volunteering.

The dot-com bust left some households pinching pennies, and many in the Valley find time scarce as well, with their Palms, BlackBerry and Handspring calendars packed to the gills.

Do we really have time for things like sprucing up community centers and fixing homes of the elderly?

Fortunately for those of us wanting to live in a world in which everyone is valued -- including people whose needs sometimes surpass their means -- thousands of community members are responding with a resounding, "Yes."

Jocelyn Dong is a senior staff writer at the Weekly. She can be e-mailed at

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