Volunteers Needed for Cats in the Community Day

Volunteers Needed for Cats in the Community Day

By Alexis BlueUniversity Communications
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Aztec Flooring will donate and install new carpeting at the Project YES site. In this photo, UA student Jessica Gerlach talks with Aztec Flooring's Matt Caldwell.
Aztec Flooring will donate and install new carpeting at the Project YES site. In this photo, UA student Jessica Gerlach talks with Aztec Flooring's Matt Caldwell.

The white walls around the Project YES after-school tutoring facility in South Tucson are a magnet for graffiti. So, thinking a permanent mural might help deter the vandals, Sheri Ramirez, director of development and public affairs for the Tucson Urban League, submitted the site for consideration by The University of Arizona's annual Cats in the Community Day volunteer project.

All Ramirez asked for was a mural, but as the selected partner for this year's Cats in the Community Day, the Tucson Urban League's Project YES will be getting a whole lot more.

Volunteers from the UA community are needed to help with projects at the site, ranging from painting to woodworking to grounds cleanup and more, said Holly Altman, director of outreach and community partnerships in the UA's Office of Community Relations.

Altman says she hopes to involve about 400 volunteers in giving the site of Project YES, which stands for Youth Enrichment Services, a complete makeover on March 7.

"We're trying to create a more uplifting environment for the children," Altman said.

Project YES, 100 W. 37th St., serves about 100 children, kindergarten through eighth grade, and there is a waiting list, said Sister Mary Anne McElmurry, the project's educational coordinator.

The program offers homework help, tutoring, mentoring and recreational opportunities for children who might not otherwise have a place to go after school, Sister McElmurry said. A small paid staff and about 14 volunteers, many from the UA's Kappa Delta Chi sorority, work with the students.

"A lot of these kids would be latchkey if it weren't for Project YES. This gives them a safe, nurturing environment," Ramirez said.

Most of the students enrolled in the program come from low-income families and, for many, English is a second language, Sister McElmurry said. She said some are being raised by grandparents because their parents are in prison or are involved with drugs, and others come from homeless shelters.

"There's such a need here in this neighborhood," Sister McElmurry said.

Founded more than 20 years ago, Project YES nearly closed its doors in 2005 because of a lack of funding. At that point, the Tucson Urban League took over the program. But with the majority of its funding going toward the project's direct services and not facilities, work on the physical property is overdue, Ramirez said.

Volunteers from the UA will take on projects such as painting inside and outside, constructing picnic tables, collecting children's books, organizing art, media and resource rooms and more, Altman said. A team of UA graphic design students, under the director of art professor Jackson Boelts, will create the mural outside.

"It will be a really beautiful addition to the community. I think it's going to lift the entire neighborhood's spirit," Ramirez said.

The Cats in the Community project is funded entirely through grants and in-kind donations, and all labor is volunteer. Some major contributors include Amer-X Security, which will donate a new security system; Aztec Flooring, which will donate new carpeting; Cardinals Charities, which will donate a playground shade cover; the Marshall Foundation; and Long Realty Cares, among others, Altman said.

The Project YES computer set-up also will get an upgrade, with a team of volunteers from University Information Technology Services working to get more computers connected to the Internet. Sister McElmurry said the program only has two computers now.

Altman said an important goal of Cats in the Community Day is to build a lasting relationship with an organization that goes beyond one day of volunteer work. She said she hopes the event will help connect Project YES with new potential volunteer tutors from the UA. Other long-term projects to benefit the program are also planned, such as revamping the mandatory fingerprinting process in a way that would take the financial burden off of volunteers, Altman said.

Each year the UA chooses a partner in need for Cats in the Community Day. Last year's partner was the Primavera Foundation, a nonprofit organization serving Tucson's homeless population.

For many UA students and employees, the event is something to look forward to year after year.

One returning volunteer this year is Elizabeth Taylor, the University's deputy chief information officer, who will lead the Cats in the Community Day woodshop for the third year in a row with her husband, John Nametz, director of student financial aid.

Taylor said they'll be constructing picnic tables, flower boxes and pegs on which the children can hang their backpacks.

"It's such a great release from all the tension at work, plus it's good for your heart," Taylor said. "We're all so worried about the budget, and 'Will I have a job?' It's good to look at people who have so much less than we do and help them."

The event will be held in several shifts throughout the day, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and no experience is necessary to participate, Altman said.

You can register to volunteer through the Cats in the Community Day Web site.

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