The third Saturday of any given month represents an annual event taking place somewhere.
Across the United States, military men and women are honored in Armed Forces Day events annually on the third Saturday in May.
For volunteers from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District that third Saturday of the month takes place in August.
It’s called Paint-A-Thon, and this year it took place on August 16.
It has nothing to do with engineers painting at any of our six main stem dams; nothing to do with the commander getting his office walls upgraded; and nothing to do with one of the division secretaries putting in an order for paint supplies.
If you ask any of the employees who volunteer, it’s much bigger and much more rewarding.
Twenty-six years ago, Brush Up Nebraska came to life as a community-based volunteer program that paints homes of qualified low-income elderly and low-income permanently disabled homeowners, in the Omaha Metropolitan Area. The upgrades to the home helps homeowners maintain their property, and beautify the community.
Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” The Omaha District and the many volunteers who support this annual event have been giving for more than 25 years.
“Sequestration in 2013, had leadership choosing not to take on this volunteer effort as it was not in the best interest of our District employees,” said Joyce Ridout, who has participated in Brush Up Nebraska Paint-A-Thons since 1995. Ridout became team leader in 2008 after serving as clean-up leader since 2003, and coordinating the tee shirt order since 2001.
A lot of work needs to be done prior to the actual paint day, including calling for volunteers, ordering tee shirts, for a nominal fee, for each volunteer, and setting up an after-working-hours volunteer schedule. Next comes preparing the chosen house for the big Paint-A-Thon day.
“My effort is always to paint and I enjoy it, but I feel that it is a small contribution compared to the other work our volunteers do to get the project to that point,” said Monika Seeba. Preparation began the last day in July with washing down the two-story home with detergent, scraping the old paint off of the house and garage, and cleaning out and raking up brush on the property.
Ridout put the call out for tools needed that evening such as hammers, crowbars, small sledgehammers, drills, gloves, and last but not least….ladders. During the first week, many volunteers who came forward were busy with minor repairs and scraping away old paint. “This was my first year volunteering for the Paint-A-Thon,” said Amy Schmidt. “It’s nice to be able to help make a difference for people who really don’t have the money or people around to help them out, and to give back to the community.” Schmidt said she really enjoyed working as a team with other Corps employees who she would normally not get a chance to interact with in the District.
That sentiment was echoed throughout the diverse group of volunteers. “Doing the volunteer work with co-workers lets you interact in a completely different way than at work,” said Doug Hemsley.
The week before paint day, volunteers were busy priming the house and garage and finishing little projects. One of those projects included removing an old tree stump from the front yard. Taking on that challenge were Gary Hinkle and Bob Willcuts, both engineers by day. Nothing would stump these guys from getting the job done.
“Helping those in need, in the local community is a civic duty that more people should be doing,” said Margaret Hollandsworth. She added that she finds volunteer work meaningful, interesting, and helps her escape from her day-to-day routine with work and family commitments.
The Omaha District went above and beyond the call of volunteering this year. Senior leaders along with new employees to the Corps, and family members pitched in to support the cause. In all, around 67 volunteers stepped up to the challenge throughout the two-week period of the Paint-A-Thon, with approximately 40 on hand, or maybe ready with paint brush in hand to wrap it up on paint day.
Hector Santiago, who has volunteered for Paint-A-Thon for almost 10 years said, “In the past I also took advantage of this volunteer endeavor to bring my son, and that was a great opportunity to show him what can be accomplished as a team for our community.”
John Remus who has been a Paint-A-Thon volunteer for more than 15 years said, “This is a big thing for the homeowners and the community. Every year, there is at least one neighbor that stops by and thanks us for helping.”
Schmidt, who brought one of the youngest volunteers with her on paint day, her son Colton, said although he spent the majority of the time eating and playing, the only thing he could talk about after leaving was how he had helped paint a house for somebody that needed help. Schmidt said he was extremely proud of it.
Volunteers showed up with enthusiasm, support, and were ready to tackle all sorts of projects. Corps volunteers took on projects without hesitation. Chris Wiehl constructed a one-step entrance to the front porch of the house, while also installing a new air-conditioning unit that was donated by yet another volunteer group, Operation Santa, within the District.
The Regulatory Chief “dug up dirt” in order to edge along the sidewalks. Construction and Engineering Chiefs were up on ladders reaching high places of the house, while others were doing some ground leveling by the back door.
Walking tacos were just one of many treats served to the volunteers by Tammy Smith, also a volunteer. Local food sponsors provided donuts, milk, and homemade brownies.
Homeowners Erich and Arlene Schwartz of Council Bluffs, Iowa mentioned that it would be nice to keep the squirrels out of the tomato plants in their garden. Volunteers Mary and Greg Adolf accepted the challenge by Ridout to construct a raised garden and on paint day arrived with a beautifully constructed wooden garden box, which sits high off the ground and is covered to keep the pesky squirrels away.
There was nothing that could keep the many volunteers away from this home on 2nd Avenue. “In each of the Brush Up Nebraska Paint-A-Thons in which I have taken part, the individual or couples would never have been able to do what was needed without our help, said Larry Janis. “The thankfulness of those we have helped over the years is very gratifying and rewarding. With Joyce’s great leadership and Tammy’s great food, it is always a well organized event.”
Col Joel Cross, Omaha District Commander commended Joyce Ridout for her leadership. “For more than two decades Joyce has been the catalyst, the backbone and the center of gravity for this long-standing District community service effort,” said Col Cross. “She has annually rallied the District team in house selection, preparation efforts, small project initiatives, priming and ultimate Paint-A-Thon day activities that have literally changed the life of a local family each and every year.”
After this year’s Paint-A-Thon day drew to a close, Ridout summed it up, “You know what happens Sunday don’t you?” she said chuckling, “My annual truck washing!” Following a whole month of loading and unloading supplies, and packing gallons of paint and tools, it all gets packed up and put away for next year’s annual Brush Up Nebraska Paint-A-Thon….the third Saturday in August.