WINCHESTER — Robbie Dusing said he felt grateful to be able to still put his hands in the dirt and participate in his eighth year of volunteering during Wednesday’s United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley’s Day of Caring.

Dusing, who works as a director of nursing for Valley Health, wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to do such things after battling a near-fatal bout of COVID-19 in March of 2020.

“It definitely means a ton,” Dusing said about volunteering. “Recovering from COVID and not being sure of what all I would be capable of on the back end, being able to come out and participate with many of my coworkers is awesome.”

Dusing and a group of Valley Health employees were at the Youth Development Center in Winchester on Wednesday, a day after volunteering during the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle’s Day of Caring in Martinsburg, West Virginia. At the YDC, they were helping to restain a large picnic pavilion as well as clean out debris at a creek on the property.

“I always enjoy getting to donate time to the community, in particular nonprofit organizations who oftentimes don't have the manpower,” Dusing said Wednesday afternoon. “I really enjoy when we get paired with places that are geared toward our youth.”

This year, 800 volunteers tackled 105 projects throughout the region for Day of Caring, according to United Way NSV Senior Director of Advancement Elise Stine-Dolinar.

Valley Health’s team was just one of 41 groups spread throughout the city of Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah and Page counties.

At Winchester House on South Cameron Street, a group of about 100 volunteers spent time painting, doing outside landscaping, hauling boxed items to donation sites as well as cleaning and organizing apartments for residents.

Winchester House opened in 1979. Owned by the Shenandoah Fellowship Foundation, it provides housing for people 62 and older who are on a limited income.

Winchester government employee helped do some apartment organizing and also provided residents with some much-needed chit-chat.

“We were able to assist in organizing a resident’s cluttered closet, sifting through things to find what she needed and clear out space and make it more accessible for her to get in and out. We were also able to set up her TV,” said Derrick Cowles, who spent his last day as a city employee helping out. “Just being there to chat with her seemed to be a really big help. She mentioned that she hasn’t been able to get out much at all and hasn’t had many visitors.”

Becky Stern, Winchester House's property manager, said her maintenance staff has typically consisted of one person for quite some time, so the extra help was appreciated.

“We have seven floors and 80 apartments, and it’s a 40-plus-year-old building,” Stern said. “A lot of these types of projects, we just can’t do without the help. It’s hard to put a dollar value on it, because it’s priceless to us. It makes an immediate impact for our residents, and it takes a tremendous load off our staff.”

Other projects throughout the region included moving a floor and deep cleaning at the Winchester SPCA Thrift Shop, cemetery cleanup for the Strasburg Heritage Association, painting and reorganizing the food pantry at the Congregational Community Action Project (CCAP) in Winchester and clearing trails for the Foundation of the State Arboretum in Clarke County.

“This day is intended to be a demonstration that great things can be accomplished when we all work together for the good of the community,” Day of Caring Chairwoman Beth Falu said. “It also gives us a chance to thank and celebrate United Way and the agencies in our valley for always stepping up to the plate when disaster strikes or unfortunate circumstances hit. Through this trying time, we've been determined to find another way to keep this going, and we are so glad to be able to work together to do so.”

The day was started with a drive-through kick-off breakfast at 8 a.m. at Shenandoah University’s Wilkins Athletic Center.

The event is known not only for providing help to local organizations but also for bringing folks together.

Winchester City Manager Dan Hoffman, who has been at his post for about a year now, said it’s beneficial to spend some time together as colleagues away from the office.

“We’re working shoulder to shoulder, meeting some people we may have only met over email and seeing faces we haven’t seen much in awhile,” Hoffman said in between work sessions at Winchester House on Wednesday. “We do this knowing we’re all working as part of something larger.”

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com

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