United Way of Front Royal-Warren County hosts 16th ‘Day of Caring’ with 12 community projects

Warren County Sheriffs Office Sgt. Stephen Collins takes a measurement for the porch ramp under construction on Andrews Road in Warren County. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County’s Day of Caring held  Friday was an ideal opportunity for local volunteers to step up and help with community projects for residents unable to financially afford the essential maintenance projects.

Volunteers from the Warren County Sheriffs Office, City National Bank, CBM Mortgage, Warren County High School and the Front Royal Police Department gave up a day of working at the office to complete 12 community service projects that included window installations, construction, painting and yard cleanup.

Dawn Graves, executive director for United Way of Front Royal-Warren County, cheered on more than 100 volunteers at their early morning pep rally where they enjoyed fresh coffee and donuts and were assigned their community projects.

“We’re just really excited to be able to help our community,” Graves said. “We have a lot of great volunteers who have come together to help our local neighbors. That’s what today is all about: improving the quality of life for our residents.”

Cindy Cunningham, retired, of Browntown, knew she wanted to give back to the community after working for the federal government for over 42 years. After learning about the annual Day of Caring she submitted an application stating she had a passion for photography.

Warren County Sheriffs Office deputies Devin Miceli, left, and Matthew Griffith, right, level a post for a porch ramp on Andrew Road during the United Way Day of Caring. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I’ve been taking pictures since I was about 10-years-old,” she said. “When they learned I was a photographer, Dawn asked me if I would spend the day traveling from site to site photographing the day. Of course I said yes.”

Cunningham was seen traveling, camera in hand, all around Warren County capturing the volunteers rolling up their sleeves.

Sandra Santmyers a long time Front Royal resident, had a hard time putting into words what Day of Caring meant to her.

“I was telling the young men outside how grateful and blessed I feel for them,” Santmyers said. “It means the world to me. I’ve struggled on these steps for the last year trying to get up and down them and just to be able to go out here now and go off them really means so much. I’m just so grateful.”

Deputies Devin Miceli, Matthew Griffith and Sgt. Steven Collins of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office  pride themselves on giving back to their community. “It’s like the movie ‘Pay It Forward,” Miceli said. “When one person sees us helping, they’ll want to help and the next thing you know the county is thriving.”

Matthew Griffith, a K9 deputy for the Warren County Sheriffs Office, uses a digging iron to tamp down these posts for a front porch ramp project Friday on Andrews Road during the United Way Day of Caring in Warren County. Rich Cooley/Daily

Joyful tears were shed in the Santmyers household when board members from United Way called upon Santmyers to inform her she would be one of 12 community projects completed.

Santmyers is currently battling stage four renal disease and is on a daily dialysis regimen. She also suffers from diabetes. Walking up and down her front steps was becoming a daily battle.

Cathy Pugh, Santmeyer’s caretaker and first cousin, said she honestly never knew what Santmeyers went through on a daily basis until she started caring for her.

“It’s those little things we take for granted,” Pugh said, teary eyed. “Until you witness first hand with their illness, you just don’t know. And to see the willpower of someone with this type of illness want to live everyday, to me is such a blessing.”

“That’s how we celebrate in this house,” Santmyers said. “We cry. Happy tears. Joyful tears.”

Brian Alafaro, 17, of Front Royal, carries a load of brush from a home on Mitchell Drive in Warren County during the United Way Day of Caring. Rich Cooley/Daily

Pugh said she learned about United Way and their community projects through her past employer, UPS. She contributed toward their mission every paycheck she could. Now retired, Pugh spends many days with Santmyers and her dog Miles, caring for her, taking her to doctor’s appointments and simply keeping her company.

“Just seeing her struggle, it was so disheartening,” she said. “I told her there had to be some way we could get her some help. I remembered the United Way and their mission.”

After a discussion with her best friend, Pugh submitted an application to the United Day in honor of Santmyers. She crossed her fingers and prayed.

“We’ve been talking about how wonderful these volunteers are all morning,” Pugh said. “It’s incredible that they’ve taken a day out of their busy schedules, because everyone has work, everyone has a family, everyone has to do their own things, but for all these people to come together and give of themselves freely, to me it’s just such an act of goodness. “

Both Pugh and Santmyers paused momentarily to wipe their eyes when they learned over 100 volunteers were out in the community giving back.

Warren County Sheriffs Office Lt. Charles Brogan rakes brush off an outbuilding on Mitchell Lane in Warren County. Rich Cooley/Daily

“The world needs to see this kind of caring more so than ever,” Pugh said. “There’s so much ugly we’re facing. And to be able to see something like this makes people that have been hopeless, have hope.”

The mission of United Way is through togetherness change can happen.

“It’s one step at a time in order to make the community better. It’s one house this week and next year we’ll have a few more houses and a few more helpers. Every year our goal is to make our community a better place,” Miceli said.

Santmyers said on Friday she was still in a little bit of shock but feels incredibly blessed.

“The Lord has been so good to me,” Santmyers said. “And I’m so appreciative of all the help United Way has given us. I don’t know what else I can say. I’m just so thankful.”

Cadre Brown, a Warren County Sheriffs Office deputy, carries a load of brush cut from an outbuilding on Mitchell Road in Warren County during the United Way Day of Caring. Rich Cooley/Daily