Despite rain, volunteers show up in force to do projects around city

Numerous volunteers participated Saturday to remove graffiti from the community mural and clean up the site near McCarty Street and U.S. 54, as one of the Serve Jeff City projects.

Numerous volunteers participated Saturday to remove graffiti from the community mural and clean up the site near McCarty Street and U.S. 54, as one of the Serve Jeff City projects. Photo by Shaun Zimmerman.

On Saturday, budding artist Courtney Lyon carefully added her own touches to the mural painting that graces the walls surrounding a vacant lot at the corner of West McCarty Street and Highway 54.

Lyon, 18, was one of several dozen volunteers who came this weekend to participate in “Serve Jeff City,” a grassroots effort designed to leverage Jefferson City’s volunteer workforce. Some 400 people signed up to participate in the event. Although Saturday’s drizzly weather kept some of them at home, it didn’t prevent an enthusiastic crowd from kicking off the day in the Madison Street parking garage with a pancake breakfast.

The mural — which now depicts a large, black dog doing its best to keep a plane on a leash — is the inspiration of California artist Paul Notzold. Lyon filled in Notzold’s design with black paint. She was one of several people making the small corner a nicer space by removing graffiti and clearing weeds.

A friend told Lyon about the Serve Jeff City opportunity.

“I looked it up online and it sounded really cool,” said Lyon, who is planning to study fine arts at Columbia College next fall. “I love to paint.”

When she arrived at the parking garage Saturday morning, Lyon was shocked at how many people were ready to help.

“It really surprised me, because I didn’t think so many people would volunteer their time,” she said.

Raising consciousness about volunteering is part of the idea, said organizer Ken Hussey, who also serves as community relations director for the YMCA. He noted many people want to serve, but don’t know the best way to get involved.

He described Serve Jeff City as a “dedicated day to help get people thinking about community service and create some synergy around it.”

Having hundreds convene on one day also creates economies of scale that make it easier to plan projects.

J.J. Gates, a division director with the Jefferson City Department of Parks and Recreation, said the “sheer volume” of having so many volunteers available allows the group to accomplish what it would take a weekfor his staff to do.

Hussey was gratified this year as more groups — churches, Scout troops — signed up. Hussey said the idea came to him when he saw the post of a Facebook friend from Cincinnati. He started to ponder the possibility of a communitywide day of service in Jefferson City, he said.

Soon, leaders from the YMCA, United Way and the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation were strategizing ways to make it work.

“I think it initiates pride in our community,” said volunteer Stuart Murphy.

After rallying in the garage, the groups splintered off to do projects all over town. The list included: picking up trash, mulching trees, planting saplings, sprucing up flower beds, widening trails, painting walls and adding sand to playgrounds.

Retired state workers Brenda and Charlie Verhoff spent part of their day tucking salvia plants with bright red blossoms into hanging flower pots meant to brighten up the Jefferson City Day Care Center on Myrtle Drive.

Brenda Verhoff said she often checks the volunteer opportunities listed in the newspaper, and she’d been attracted to the idea of rocking babies at the center for a while.

“I picked helping the kids because it gave me a chance to see what it was like here,” she said.

Another team built a new changing room at Dreams to Reality, an organization that provides office apparel to job seekers. Until now, women tried on outfits behind a curtain. Kristie Callaway, executive director at Dreams to Reality, said the new privacy will make it easier for abused women to communicate, in secret, if they need help.

A team also was set to power-wash concrete at the outdoor ampitheater at Ellis Porter/Riverside Park.

That latter project — sprucing up the ampitheater — was designed to focus a little public attention on the long-ignored amenity, Gates said. He’s hopeful eventually the community will have enough resources to improve the electrical and lighting systems there.

“Really we want to make people aware that it’s out there,” he said.

This is Serve Jeff City’s third event in two years. Although Saturday’s wet weather wasn’t ideal, it didn’t halt progress, either.

“I was still proud of how many did show up,” Hussey said. “That’s the chance you take when you schedule something in April in Missouri.”

Accompanying photo: Volunteers working

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