Nancy Perry Day of Caring 2020

Governor Kelly, Nancy Perry kick off United Way Day of Caring

Marlou Wegener and Angela Dake Receive Volunteer Awards

TOPEKA, KS, September 18, 2020—Governor Laura Kelly and retired United Way CEO Nancy Perry welcomed a small and socially distanced in-person group as well as a live-stream audience to United Way of Greater Topeka’s Nancy Perry Day of Caring. The kickoff was broadcast live on UWGT’s Facebook page.

Former UWGT CEO Nancy Perry (left) and current CEO Jessica Lehnherr

Perry, who ran United Way for 24 years, and for whom the day of service is named, provided historical perspective for the morning. She noted that Topeka had persevered through crisis in the past, including floods, tornados and even the national upheaval on 9/11. But each time, she noted, Kansans came through.

Governor Laura Kelly

Following Perry to the podium, Kelly was quick to praise her long-time friend. “I’ve known Nancy for decades,” Kelly said. “You are as enthusiastic now, as caring now and as inspirational now as you were then. The fact that we have this day is a true testament to who you are.”

As a former UWGT board member, Kelly said she knew “the difference that volunteering can make in a community. There is nothing more rewarding than dedicating our time and energy in service to others.”

The annual event is normally one of the largest volunteer days in Topeka, drawing 1,000 or more participants, often given time to volunteer by their employers. With many people still working from home and with COVID-19 precautions still necessary, the majority of those volunteers simply were not available this year.

And even if they had been available, social distancing and limited work space meant indoor projects had to be scaled back or scrapped.

Despite all the necessary restrictions, 355 volunteers signed up to handle 27 projects for 23 agencies, representing more than 1,400 hours of volunteer labor. Day of Caring used a hybrid model this year, offering individual at-home or virtual opportunities in addition to more traditional volunteering. COVID has forced many nonprofits to cancel critical fundraising events in the past six months, meaning the help they got from volunteers on Day of Caring was more valuable than usual.

Jessica Barraclough, UWGT’s Director of Volunteer Engagement worked with nonprofits across the community to find creative opportunities. “We recognized early on in COVID that our traditional big group volunteer projects probably weren’t going to be feasible this year, she said. “But we also know there has been a small but steady stream of volunteers who are still eager and able to safely be out in the community helping those who need it.”

Marlou Wegener

This year marked the start of a new Day of Caring tradition, the Ad Astra Honors. The Honors will encompass a variety of volunteer awards, beginning this year with the existing Marge Heeney Award that honors volunteers who work directly with United Way. A second award open to all community volunteers was added this year. Barraclough said the UWGT Volunteer Engagement Committee hoped to add more awards next year.

The Marge Heeney Award was presented to Marlou Wegener. Wegener currently chairs the UWGT Community Impact Council. Wegener’s nominator said “This individual has provided great leadership in guiding our council to make informed decisions. She is a considerate and organized volunteer and continually supports our work, and she does all this with a wonderful sense of humor.”

The new Ad Astra Award was presented to Angela Dake, organizer of 1,000 Masks for Shawnee County, a grassroots group that grew out of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Angela Dake

Barraclough introduced Dake in part by explaining the premise of the award. “Ad Astra Honors recognize those in our community who go above and beyond to serve others. They are the unsung heroes, rarely seeking recognition and often are happy working their magic out of the spotlight. This year’s nominee is no different.”

She also read an excerpt from Dake’s nomination, a letter of support signed by more than 20 individuals and four organizations that said “Angela saw a need for the people in our community to protect themselves and those around them. She thought of a creative solution… ‘If I can find 100 volunteers to sew 10 masks we would have 1,000 masks for Shawnee County.’ And so the group was born. She has spent countless hours organizing volunteers, supplies and best practices for those in need in our community. What was a dream of 1,000 masks to date has resulted in the creation of 27,282 masks and counting.”

This year’s Day of Caring sponsors are:

  • Platinum – Security Benefit
  • Gold – Capitol Federal, CoreFirst Bank and Trust
  • Silver – Evergy, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Stormont Vail, Washburn University
  • Bronze – Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Kansas

Kickoff livestream: