For the 21st consecutive year, employees of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions put their daily lives on hold to give back to a local community through Project Vision.
SRNS fielded about a dozen teams on sites around Aiken, including about 25 people at Helping Hands.
“When I first came out here I didn’t know it was a children’s home. But I came out here with Project Vision about eight years ago and figured out what the purpose of the facility was. Being a home for displaced children, that really caught my interest. I kind of got a soft spot in my heart because I have kids,” said Freddie Hartzog, project lead.
Hartzog lives in Aiken and said he chooses to work at Helping Hands every year because of its mission with children.
“Helping Hands is the local home for abused children,” CEO Carmen Landy said. “We have 58 beds and serve boys and girls from birth to 21 years old.”
Landy said the home takes in children that have been removed from their families’ care through family court. She said the children come from abusive situations and have been victims of neglect, violence, drug issues and sexual assault.
The facility currently houses about 18 children, including one only three months old. Helping Hands sends the children to school to emphasize the importance of education, and offers them tutoring programs outside of that.
Hartzog and the SRNS team made improvements to storage components, parking lots and the landscape of the facility, including some large tree and bush clearing projects.
“The shelving they are building is for an administrative workspace,” Landy said. “There is paperwork involved with every case, and the case workers and visitors need an area where they can more easily work with each child’s situation.”
The team also repaired holes left in the ceiling after a fire suppressant system upgrade and installed a wind screen along the back fence to serve as a privacy barrier. Landy said this time last year she couldn’t see further than the edge of the property. Then, the electric company changed how it groomed vegetation along its right-of-way which lies just beyond the Helping Hands fence line. Now, she can see a stop sign at an intersection more than 100 yards away.
She said the children are vulnerable and the organization wants to help them feel secure. She said the privacy screen behind the playground will help them do just that.
“Many of the kids come from a place where they aren’t remembered. We like to keep a space that is comfortable and lets them know that somebody cares about them and the environment they live in. It does a lot for anybody emotionally to be in an environment that is supportive, functions well and is warm and inviting,” Landy said.
All the projects, she said, have a much larger impact than she thinks the volunteers recognize. She said her benefits are multiplied beyond savings in labor.
Landy saved several thousand dollars on the cabinets, tree services, and bush clearing work , let alone each of the particular smaller projects like ceiling repair and parking lot striping.
But she said her operation is partially funded through grants. Many of them require the facility to match a portion of funds through fundraising or other methods, including the value of volunteer labor.
“Some of the grants require you to do, say, a 5 percent match. Given the amount of volunteer hours worked out here today adds up to about $5,000, that means the total value of today’s work in qualifying grants could be worth $25,000,” Landy said.
Hartzog also recognized two area business, Aiken Tree Service and Wade’s Service from Barnwell, who volunteered their time and equipment to help with the heavier tree and brush work.
“The community has always supported SRNS and I think it is important that we give back to the community, and I think this is a wonderful thing. We take a day of our time and work with people from the site in a more casual atmosphere doing something good. It’s fun, and I feel good when I leave here in the afternoon, like I have helped people.” Hartzog said.
Project Vision is a community outreach program and is part of the Savannah River Site’s “Days of Caring” program in conjunction with area United Way agencies. Project Vision is one of three such programs and focuses on Aiken County, while Projects Care and Serve focus on residents in Barnwell and Richmond counties, respectively.
Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.