The Greater DC Cares Servathon got a large boost in its 15th year, thanks to a new partnership with AOL.
On May 19 more than 1,000 AOL employees volunteered 5,000 hours of their time to help Loudoun County parks, schools and shelters as a part of the community-service event. The Servathon, which takes place one weekend every year, is designed to provide the most help in the shortest amount of time.
"The project allows for a tremendous amount of impact in a very short amount of time," Greater DC Cares Director of Development Jennifer Rawlings said. "Any one nonprofit could not do it on its own. It would take them months and months to get this amount of work done."
Over the two-day event May 19 and 20, more than 3,000 volunteers donated 12,000 hours of community service to help local nonprofits, a large jump from the around 2,000 volunteers who worked at the 2005 Servathon.
"The resources that [AOL] gives us really builds our capacity," Rawlings said. "We have been really fortunate that AOL has been a huge supporter of DC Cares."
AOL Community Investment Manager Melissa Stirling said that community service and the Servathon support the company's general mission and partnering was a perfect progression of their involvement with Greater DC Cares.
"The Servathon was just a natural fit," Stirling said. "People go online to get information and to create communities. This is just taking those online communities and taking them off-line."
BEGINNING AT 9 o'clock Friday morning, the 1,000 AOL employees scattered to nonprofits around the county, including the Rust Nature Sanctuary in Leesburg, Good Shepherd Alliance shelters throughout the county, the Leesburg Senior Center and Franklin Park in Purcellville.
The company's departments were assigned based on the number of volunteers and the needs of the nonprofits.
"We had 40-plus people and this was the spot that could use that many people," AOL Shared Services team captain Colleen Muldoon said about her team's placement at the Rust Sanctuary. "We have five teams with people on litter patrol, fence building, hauling debris out of the basement and mulching trails."
Although the Servathon was only scheduled to run until 12:30 p.m., Muldoon said her team was prepared to stay through the afternoon.
"We are committed to finishing whatever jobs they give us," she said.
Volunteer Renee Kitt-Bingham, who works in AOL's accounts payable department, said her decision to volunteer was a simple one.
"Funds are always tight and staff is always limited," she said. "We are providing support that is desperately needed and it makes you feel good about yourself when you volunteer."
Since volunteering is such a large part of the community of AOL, Stirling said that employees came out in droves to sign up to help.
"We are at maximum capacity at each site," she said. "This is the largest day of service in the community."
In addition to supporting nonprofits in the county, AOL used the Servathon as a chance to enhance its own community.
"This is a great team-building exercise," Stirling said. "This is helping not just the nonprofits, but the corporation as well."
Throughout the day Friday, AOL employees were working and laughing together, a sign that Stirling's belief might be correct.
"Volunteering is fun," Kitt-Bingham said. "It is a great way to meet people and to get to know the people you work with outside of the office."
Stirling also believes that it is important for AOL and its employees to become active parts of the county's community.
"This brings our employees out into Loudoun County, where we are based," she said. "It allows us to touch the nonprofits that are around us. It shows [employees] the strength and capacity of the nonprofits right in our backyard."
THE CHANCE TO expose county residents to the work of the community groups is one of the biggest reasons that many of the nonprofits participate in the Servathon.
"This is a great way not only to show what we do, but it is letting people see what our mission is," Good Shepherd Alliance Executive Director John Golden said. "They may then want to volunteer more frequently or they may know people who can help us in various ways."
Cliff Fairweather, manager naturalist for the Rust Nature Sanctuary, said the Servathon was an important part of exposing the sanctuary to the public.
"This event gives us the opportunity to introduce a lot of people to the sanctuary at one time," he said.
Many of the nonprofit groups participating in the Servathon saved larger jobs at their sites in anticipation of the AOL volunteer day.
"Some nonprofits wait all year for this," Rawlings said. "Some save their big jobs especially for this event."
"It is great when a big group like this can come out and do some of the things that you can't prioritize day to day, like painting," Golden said.
Fairweather said the Servathon was a chance to build a new fence around the wetlands that is the only breeding ground for the Jefferson salamander.
"It is a big job," he said. "It needs a lot of hands to get done and now it will and we will be able to protect [the salamanders'] environment."
For nonprofits, such as Good Shepherd Alliance who rely on the daily help of volunteers, events like the Servathon are priceless.
"It was such a big help to us," Golden said. "It is important to get more hands on deck and they did a great job."