Day of Caring teaches volunteers about building community

The little girl was hanging on, piggy-back style, and showing no signs of letting go. Then her friend jumped aboard, grabbing my neck from the front.

The little girl was hanging on, piggy-back style, and showing no signs of letting go. Then her friend jumped aboard, grabbing my neck from the front.

I settled her on my knee, and the three of us spent the next few minutes watching their friends and mine struggle to carry water balloons across the finish line using their heads, legs, backs and arms -- no hands, according to the rules.

That was how I spent part of Wednesday along with other staffers from the News Tribune. We ditched our work clothes and routines for bright yellow T-shirts and the company of dozens of children, from teenagers to 6-year-olds, at the Boys & Girls Club of Duluth branch at Lincoln Park Elementary School.

As volunteers in one project of the United Way's citywide Day of Caring event, we played games and ate hot dogs after raking wood chips around the playground outside the school. We also picked up trash. My partner and I won for collecting the biggest haul.

But the best rewards were the laughs and smiles of the children when a bunch of grown-ups left the office and spent a few hours focused on them.


That's where my two happy hangers-on come in. I have two kids of my own and have spent plenty of time over the years in play with them. They've enjoyed it, at least most of the time. As they get older, it sometimes gets harder to organize a game of catch or a more-than-clipped conversation.

But with these kids, even the smallest amount of attention produced endless joy.

Tim McLoughlin, head of our circulation department, has seen it many times over the years. He's a longtime board member of the Boys & Girls Club, as well as an original member as a teenager when the club opened in 1971.

Not every kid in our community has a strong family foundation and gets a lot of parental attention, McLoughlin reminded me. And focus from a father figure is in especially short supply these days.

We saw it in the way the kids immediately bonded with us.

"They just grabbed your hand," McLoughlin said. "By doing that activity, we connected with all the reasons the club is there."

I wasn't sure what I was signing up for when I agreed to be part of the News Tribune's Day of Caring team. But every one of us from the newspaper walked away with a smile as we left, though a bit sweatier and a bit wearier, from the Lincoln Park school grounds.

Could we have better spent the afternoon doing what we normally do? There's always work to be done at a newspaper. Two of our reporters rushed back from our Day of Caring event to get going on news stories.


But the three hours we spent with the kids were a more important contribution. It was us giving back, as individuals and as an organization, to our community. That's important for any business, but I think especially so for a newspaper. We work to build community by supplying information that knits people together. We talk a lot in our pages about the need for responsibility and leadership. The Day of Caring was a real-life example of more than 400 volunteers throughout the Twin Ports demonstrating exactly that.

In our project, leadership took the form of rakes and shovels and, ultimately, water balloons. But it was unmistakably present.

"Are you guys coming back next year?" my water balloon-race partner asked me as we munched hot dogs together. "Because I want to be your partner again."

All around us, we see challenges that demand leadership, from the city of Duluth's troubled financial situation to kids who crave and need a grown-up's attention.

Where will the next generation of Twin Ports leaders come from? Some were among those hard at work in bright yellow T-shirts giving back in the lives of others in our community last week.

Rob Karwath is executive editor of the News Tribune. You can reach him at (218) 720-4177 or .

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