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Volunteers set out to make a difference on Day of Caring

For several dozen Praxair employees, this year's United Way Day of Caring turned into several Days of Caring.

Staff at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park had asked the volunteers to sand and stain the wooden deck of the submarine USS Croaker on the 25th annual community service event held Wednesday.

But after one look at the deck's current state, Terry Bourgeois knew it would be more than just a one-day project.

"Those walking surfaces were just in really poor condition so we made a commitment that we were actually going to replace that walking deck with new wood," said Bourgeois, director of Praxair's technology center.

Praxair crews started Monday, cutting and fastening pressure-treated lumber for a new deck that will last 30 years. They were among 3,600 employees from 148 companies who fanned out across the area Wednesday to paint, pull weeds and clean, among other duties.

Workers from Praxair work on the decks of the USS Sullivan and USS Croaker at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Blazing a trail

At West Side Community Services, United Auto Workers members and management from GM's Tonawanda Engine plant teamed up with the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association to install 10 signs along the sidewalk that promote parent engagement, critical thinking skills, early literacy and kindergarten readiness for kids through interactive activities.

The multilingual "Born Learning Trail" signs were translated from English into Spanish and Burmese for the neighborhood, which is home to many immigrants. One sign prompts a parent and child to "Find a flower or tree. Touch it. Talk about it. (Is it hard or soft? Rough or smooth?)"

UAW member Dan Struebel was so busy mixing and pouring concrete to set the sign posts that he hadn't actually read one of the signs.

"Once we get rolling you don't have time to read anything," he said. "We're popping here."

The "Born Learning Trail" — a nationwide United Way initiative — is the first of its kind in this area, but there are plans for more in each quadrant of the city, as well as the suburbs and rural areas, said Melodie Baker, director of education at the local United Way.

Shannon Mack, left, and Samantha Kittinger, worked on putting up this trilingual sign at West Side Community Services. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Cleaning a creek

Meanwhile, over 100 students studying for a Master of Business Administration at the University at Buffalo spent the morning collecting trash along the Scajaquada Creek shoreline, near Niagara Street.

"The goal is to give back something to the community, clean up the natural spaces we all share," said Thomas Langan.

The students prevented several hundred pounds of trash from entering the waterway, and also brought awareness to an area that features a bike path and, soon, a kayak launch, said Wendy Paterson, senior community engagement coordinator for Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

There's a concerted push to clean up the polluted creek, which is fouled by sewer overflows.

"But now people are thinking of it as a potential beautiful spot, as opposed to a spot that is degraded," said Paterson. "We want to help that future continue."

The UB students piled up bags of litter, as well as several TV sets and even a car bumper. To Nate Gulley, Wednesday's effort was about "reclaiming this space."

"We came back with dozens and dozens of bags filled garbage, which I guess in some ways is a little bit sad," he said. "But I feel like we made a good impact in just a short amount of time."

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