By Johnny Jackson
Clear, sunny skies met cheerful faces on Saturday, during the 12th Annual Hands on Henry Day.
"The weather helped us tremendously," said Susan Hoffman, one of the event's organizers.
Hands on Henry Day, sponsored each year by the Henry County Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Henry Program, drew a record 2,400-plus residents this year, said Hoffman, co-chairperson of the Leadership Henry Class of 2010 Publicity Committee.
This year's class helped orchestrate 100 beautification and repair projects at schools, parks, churches and non-profits throughout Henry County.
Hoffman said volunteers worked on a range of projects, from building and repairing ramps and benches to clearing debris and mowing lawns.
"We did everything from picking up cemeteries all the way up to painting bathrooms," she said, adding that the record number of volunteers nearly surpassed the number of projects within the public domain.
"I was incredibly surprised," Hoffman said. "I think it's amazing that so many people came out. That proves that people still just want to help, and that was very refreshing."
Norma Land registered some of her family members to take part in one of the community service projects. Her daughter and grandchildren tagged along with her on Saturday, to provide some volunteer labor for the Noah's Ark Animal Rehabilitation Center in Locust Grove.
"I'm letting them know the importance of giving back without expecting anything back," Land said as she painted one of the center's bathroom stalls.
Employees of the Walmart Supercenter on Ga. Highway 138 in Stockbridge joined many area Walmart employees to help beautify the grounds at the animal sanctuary.
"I do this every year to help out," said Michael Marsh, the store's assistant manager. "I like what this place does."
Marsh and others helped blanket the monkey enclosures at Noah's Ark with a layer of pine bark nuggets during Saturday's projects. Many volunteers at the store regularly participate in the annual community service project.
The store's overnight support manger, Nova Valentine, said she has been volunteering at the Noah's Ark project site for the past three years.
"I really do like the work they do," Valentine said, "and besides the work they do, they open up to the public and help educate people about these animals."
Valentine helped transport and pour five pallets of pine bark nugget bags into the animal sanctuary's spider monkey habitat.
Organizers were able to buy the material through a $3,000 Home Depot grant and gift card, according to Diane Smith, assistant to Noah's Ark Director and Founder Jama Hedgecoth.
"We've got a really good turnout, and more than enough to keep them all busy," Smith said.
Hands on Henry Day volunteers did similar jobs at various sites throughout the county.
Some 60 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Stockbridge did work on an old home on Leguin Mill Road in Locust Grove for the Henry Arts Alliance.
Church members demolished and then rebuilt the home's failing front porch, according to church member, Jennifer Wimber, also the church's public affairs director. Wimber said volunteers also cut and cleared an overgrown path from the home to a family cemetery on the same property, and cleaned out an abandoned garden area.
Elsewhere, Kevin Vasquez spread pine straw over the flower beds that surround A Friend's House, Henry County's emergency shelter for children in crisis.
Vasquez was one of about 25 volunteers at A Friend's House, who helped out by cleaning vehicles, gardening, and preparing gift bags for the non-profit's annual "A Taste of Henry" charity fund-raiser.
"I just moved to Henry County from Riverdale," Vasquez said. "I want to get involved in the community. I think it's always good if you're going to live anywhere to give back to the community without expecting something in return. It's good for the soul."