As much as Lisette Bishins depends on the annual cadres of volunteers to spruce up Carpenters Shelter, shes come to rely upon Spring for Alexandria to raise awareness of the organizations mission.
When Bishins, executive director, does the homeless shelters books, theres little money for landscaping or office renovations, but once a year neighbors lend a hand during the citys day of service.
The last thing that Im going to do is spend money getting our administrative offices painted, she said. We try to spend every last cent on real programs, but nonetheless, to have a volunteer come in and do that project, it makes our day that much brighter.
More than that, it also gives people a chance to get familiar with the North Henry Street shelters services and needs.
During the holidays Carpenters Shelter is flooded with food donations and awash in helping hands, but the homeless dont vanish when the weather turns for the better.
We got 40,000 cans donated to us during the [holidays] and it was great and it really carries us through the season, she said. People dont think of filling our pantry in the summer. The challenge is always to know that the need is year round. Homeless people are here year round.
Bishins isnt alone, said Donna Walker James of Volunteer Alexandria, and thats where the three-day celebration of philanthropy known as Spring for Alexandria comes into the mix. Whether its folding clothes at the Center for Alexandrias Children or landscaping for Del Rays Friends of Guest House, every little bit helps, she said.
Were really emphasizing having fun and giving back. Maybe you dont conquer all their landscaping needs that day, but maybe you [come back] and continue, James said. I think all of the nonprofits need friends and funds, really year round.
Like Bishins, James recognizes the annual event as a chance to build relationships between neighbors, residents, civic groups and charitable organizations. As much as theyre helping the helpers, volunteers are forging connections with each other and the people theyre serving.
James hopes the newfound ties are lasting.
Part of the message is get to know these folks, she said. We keep quoting Ken Naser [of Alexandrians Involved Ecumenically]: Remember us in June, remember us in August. People are still hungry. This is really important, it keeps the ball rolling. We dont want them to be forgotten.
ACT for Alexandria kicks off the three-day event with a Thursday evening gala celebrating philanthropy. While the economy has begun to right itself, there remain plenty of people struggling to get by, said Executive Director John Porter.
Luckily Alexandria is a very caring community, he said. [Spring for Alexandria] highlights that and helps rejuvenate the interest. In general Alexandrians have been involved throughout the year and this is a way to both acknowledge that and inspire continued help.
Bishins Carpenters Shelter has benefitted from the communitys willingness to help. Volunteers tasked with refurbishing the shelters playground two years ago were impressed enough with its mission to keep raising money for their efforts.
To me, its not just that this volunteer group comes in and does a service day, but with some of those volunteers we make a connection, she said. Theyve become part of our core of people Spring for Alexandria was the catalyst; it was the springboard.