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Kiddie Academy employees participate in second annual day of service with Harford Family House

The Aegis - 11/6/2019

Nov. 6--Clara Blankenship read the slogan painted by volunteers on the interior steps of a Harford Family House apartment complex in Aberdeen: "Every journey begins with a single step."

"That is the truth," said Blankenship, who has lived with her two grandchildren, ages 5 and 7, in a Harford Family House residence for about two months.

"It's beautiful -- it looks so great, I can't believe it," she said Friday afternoon as more than 70 employees with Abingdon-based Kiddie Academy wrapped up a day of volunteer work at the apartment complex in East Aberdeen.

The volunteers spent their time completing multiple tasks, such as helping with gardening beds, installing a gate to help secure a storage area where donated items are unloaded, cleaning and preparing two apartments for incoming families, even painting several murals around the apartments. The volunteers also visited several HFH houses, known as "offsite properties," around the city to clean them.

Volunteers provided to the residents sandwiches donated by the Jimmy John's shop in Abingdon, plus they interacted with children when they arrived home from school.

"We had so many fun things," said Maria Dontas, director of corporate social responsibility for Kiddie Academy.

The Harford County-based Kiddie Adacemy operates a network of more than 200 child care centers, which are independently owned and franchised, across the United States. The academies serve children from 6 weeks to 12 years old, according to the Kiddie Academy website.

The slogan "community begins here" is the "cornerstone of our values" as a company, and the same value is taught to children in Kiddie Academy classrooms, according to Dontas.

"This is us putting that into practice, locally, here in our community," she said of the volunteer effort with Harford Family House.

This is the second consecutive year Kiddie Academy employees have performed volunteer work at the Harford Family House apartment complex. About 60 staffers participated in the inaugural event last July as part of the company's nationwide Acts of Kindness campaign.

Company officials, who hope to volunteer with Harford Family House on an annual basis, decided to return this year after receiving a "great response" from employees and HFH representatives about the 2018 initiative, according to Dontas.

"Everybody felt really passionate about doing this again this year," she said.

Kevin Murphy, the company's chief operating officer, said the second year of the volunteer effort had been "rewarding and fun." He noted employees "all enjoy one another's company" at work, and they experienced the same atmosphere while volunteering Friday.

"It's fun to make a difference," Murphy said.

The Harford Family House organization, which turns 30 years old in 2019, provides housing and many other support services to families experiencing homelessness. Families can stay together and live in a furnished unit for up to six months, according to CEO Robin Tomechko.

Rent is charged on a sliding scale, based on income. Families, who are referred to HFH through the Harford County Community Action Agency, receive services such as help finding employment, obtaining stable housing, completing their education, childcare and transportation.

"They helped give us a start, and anything we need, they're there to help us, and it's just nice seeing them every day," Blankenship said of Harford Family House staff.

"It's wonderful what they do to help families starting over -- honestly, we're so blessed," she added.

The organization has a nine-person staff, so volunteer groups can help with tasks such as cleaning, painting and furnishing vacant apartments, as clients can take furnishings with them when they depart, according to Tomechko.

"When we get these big groups to come in and help us with the property, it's just wonderful, so rewarding," she said.

Tomechko praised the volunteers for their work Friday, including painting murals in the laundry room, along a corridor leading to the laundry room and the interior steps.

"Hopefully it will inspire [clients] to continue to do well and achieve all the goals that they're setting," she said.

Shannon Lubiano, construction administrator for Kiddie Academy, painted a small butterfly as part of the mural on the stairs. This is the second year she has volunteered with Harford Family House, and Friday was an opportunity to put the skills she has learned while painting as a hobby to use.

"I had a great experience," she said. "I really enjoy coming out [to volunteer]."

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