Dana Center Day of Service: The Dirty Lowdown

Posted on April 14, 2009

The Dana Center's work is rooted in service, from its executive director's time as a founding member of the Texas Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service to its current work with homeless students and early readers and its overall efforts to improve student achievement in math and science across the nation.

But much of the work the Dana Center does is several steps removed from the schoolchildren we ultimately serve. As editor Amy Dolejs put it, "Often, what we do is help the people who help the people who help the students; it doesnít always feel like direct service."

All that changed on the last Monday of March, when DC staff traded in their computers and office attire for shovels, work gloves, jeans, and t-shirts. Six teams then fanned out across Austin, ready to:

weed cart

package inspect

plant scoop

haul shovel dig

rake vacuum


In the course of the morning, Dana Center staffers:

  • Mowed, weeded, dug, gardened, and did light home maintenance for a low-income couple in poor health in the Copperfield neighborhood.

    photo of Anne Denney

    "It was a great opportunity to serve in the Austin Community. And it was so rewarding to see the tangible results of our work." — Anne Denney, ACEE staff member
  • Cleaned a dirty vacant apartment from top to bottom to make it ready for its new family, clients of VinCare, an agency that serves homeless women with children and homeless youth.

    photo of Phyllis Kirkpatrick

    "We had a great time cleaning together, and it was very worthwhile work." — Phyllis Kirkpatrick, science team member
  • Processed 4,970 pounds of food—enough for 3,976 meals—for the Capital Area Food Bank.

    photo of Lilly Soto

    "It was fun—we all felt good about it." — Lilly Soto, director's office staff
  • Planted an entire garden in front of Allison Elementary in collaboration with the Seedling Foundation.

    photo of Jackie Cabaniss

    "I donít have a lot of opportunities to do direct service, so I really appreciated having the chance to do this as part of my work day."
    — Jackie Cabaniss, financial analyst

    photo of Mary Jane Schoot

    "What a kick to be of service to my elementary school. It looked a lot smaller than I remembered, even the principal's office." — Mary Jane Schott, professional development team member
  • Weeded, mulched, and planted the garden at Project Recovery, a residential recovery program for chronic alcoholics run by the Austin Travis County Mental Health and Mental Retardation agency.

    photo of Cathy Seeley

    "It was great to be part of an effort that was really focused on people who need help, and our work was really appreciated." — Cathy Seeley, senior fellow
  • Landscaped and did spring cleaning at the LifeWorks Emergency Shelter.

    photo of Carolina Guajardo

    "I'm so glad I got to be part of this fabulous experience. We should do these service projects regularly, because we can really make a difference in people's lives." — Carolina Guajardo, ACEE staff member

Reflecting on the morning's activities over a feast of fajitas back on campus, Dana Center staff reported being dirty, tired, and very satisfied. Rachele Pitzer, fresh from her wheelbarrow-steering triumph at Allison Elementary, summed up just about everyone's feelings: "We had a fabulous time. It was a really fun and rewarding experience."

photo of Rachele Pitzer and Amy Dolejs

written by Sarah Searcy, staff editor

layout and design by Amy Dolejs, webmaster, and Phil Swann, designer

photos by Gabriela Garcia, Mary Ellen Isaacs, Chetan Makan, Phil Swann, Shae Small, Lilly Soto