Classes weren’t in session, but the halls were buzzing all day Saturday at the City of Franklin Microsociety Magnet School.
The campus at San Pablo Avenue and Virginia Street was one of 55 sites in the Berkeley area that benefited this weekend from the annual Christmas in April volunteer day. More than 2,000 volunteers around the area put charitable thoughts into action, painting walls, building benches, planting flowers, helping the needy. And along the way, most of them discovered – or discovered – that volunteering can be, well, fun.
“It’s a really good way to get to know people outside of work,” said Lynn Benton, who works in the fermentation and media department at Bayer Corp., which sponsored the City of Franklin project. “It makes it easier to network back at work, but it’s also good to get involved in the community.”
Organizers estimate that this year’s volunteers in the four communities – Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville and North Oakland – provided more than $650,000 in repair work. Nationally, around 231,000 volunteers contributed the equivalent of an estimated $78 million in repairs in 720 communities.
Since 1991, volunteers with the Albany-Berkeley-Emeryville branch of Christmas in April have rehabilitated 256 homes, most of which belonged to low-income seniors or disabled residents. The program targeted about 40 homes this year and was joined by the North Oakland branch.
But volunteers also have participated in repair projects at 54 community facilities, including schools and community centers.
On Saturday, in addition to the City of Franklin site, volunteers worked at more than a dozen such facilities, including Rosa Parks Elementary School, Berkeley Youth Alternatives, East Bay Community Law Center and the Over 60 Health Care Center.
City of Franklin may not have been the only Berkeley school chosen for the renovation and repair effort, but it was certainly the one most in need of help. The school’s facility was built in 1952 and was expanded 12 years later. Franklin School was closed in 1983, but the district was forced to reopen it in 1990 to serve as the temporary home for Cragmont Elementary School – that school’s site in the Berkeley Hills had been damaged in the Loma Prieta quake in October 1989.
Unlike other school sites in the Berkeley Unified School District, major improvements have not been made at Franklin. Instead, the campus was the temporary home for other schools whose facilities were being rebuilt. Columbus (now Rosa Parks) Elementary was housed there for a period of time, as was Cragmont. Thousand Oaks Elementary currently shares the building with City of Franklin, but TO will move this summer into its new, rebuilt facility.
And with the BUSD facing financial difficulties, many maintenance programs have been cut back to the bare bones.
That left City of Franklin, which opened just last fall, as an ideal candidate for some volunteer support.
“I just believe that it takes a whole community – you know the saying, that it takes a village to raise a child – and I’m glad to see that the community is willing to come in and support us this way,” said City of Franklin Principal Barbara Penny-James.
Bayer had more than 120 volunteers at the school Saturday, with participants from a few other local companies also joining in. This was the ninth consecutive year that Bayer has participated, and the number of volunteers has grown each time, noted Laura Rohde, communications manager.
Anyone who doubted that volunteer work can be fun only needed to follow around a trio of paper-towel installers in the afternoon – Richard Furuzawa, April Loui and Henry Wu. As the threesome wandered from room to room, installing new dispensers, they provided entertainment for each other, for this reporter and for the painters they encountered, who, more often than not, just kind of chuckled and went back to work.
Thanks to Christmas in April, the school got those new paper-towel dispensers; repainted restrooms, picnic tables and exterior walls along the multipurpose building; new benches and a storage shed; new flowers and plants; and a pledge to return next year to help again.
Prior to Saturday’s workday, many volunteers had visited the homes or community facilities earlier this month to begin prep work.
And on Sunday, local synagogues completed three repair projects as part of the “Sukkot in April” workday.