Volunteers go gaga at Day of Caring

Employees of AkzoNobel in Salisbury construct a ‘gaga’ ball pit, where children can play a form of dodgeball, at Enochville Elementary School for the United Way Day of Caring on Thursday.
Employees of AkzoNobel in Salisbury construct a ‘gaga’ ball pit, where children can play a form of dodgeball, at Enochville Elementary School for the United Way Day of Caring on Thursday.

SALISBURY — When they were asked to build a gaga ball pit at Enochville Elementary School, employees of AkzoNobel in Salisbury had no idea what to expect.

“When they told me that, I said, ‘Do what?’ ” said Paul Robertson, the group’s team leader.

But the group of 10 volunteers learned quickly as they built the octagonal structure Thursday during the Rowan County United Way Day of Caring. Robertson, who works in maintenance, said this is about the 13th year that the company has participated.

“It’s about giving something to children, and doing something for the schools that they wouldn’t normally get,” Robertson said.

A gaga pit, it turns out, is a place where students can play a rapid-fire form of dodge ball called “gaga.”

The one in Enochville is made of eight wooden walls — seven that stand about four feet high, and one with a lower opening to allow players in and out.

Players toss the ball and bounce it off the walls, trying to hit each other below the knees or waist. If the ball goes out of the pit or is caught before bouncing, the player who threw it is out. If the ball hits a player, that person is out.

Enochville Principal Kelly Street said dodge ball can sometimes be too aggressive for children. This is a safer game that’s still competitive, she said — and the students have been clamoring for it.

“The last couple of years, we’ve tried to develop more healthy fitness activities for students,” she said. “For kids who can’t play soccer or kickball, this is great, and they can be active.”

Street said she’s impressed by the teamwork that the AkzoNobel workers showed.

“I think it’s incredible that they give of their time to give back to the schools,” she said. “I hope we can give back by letting our children enjoy it, so they can tell their parents what these guys - and the United Way - have done for them.”

About 600 volunteers fanned out across the county to 54 sites on Thursday, according to Jackie Harris, campaign and marketing director for the Rowan County United Way.

Before beginning their work, many of the volunteers took time for breakfast at the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA provided by the Rowan Rotary Club. They then spent the Day of Caring building, pouring, painting, landscaping and more for the benefit of local schools and nonprofit organizations.

A team from Freightliner painted the high walls of the Woodleaf Elementary School library in bright shades of pink, blue and yellow.

Before they opened the paint cans, they spent nearly an hour moving hundreds of books off the shelves along the walls, piling them in orderly stacks in the center of the room.

Outside, several members of the Woodleaf Civitan Club planted shrubs, trimmed trees, spread mulch and worked on other landscaping tasks to beautify the school grounds.

Jimmy Hensley, Woodleaf Civitan president, said he went to the school for 10 years back when it housed more than just elementary students.

“I’m delighted to be here,” Hensley said. “We’re all about serving the communities.”

Some of the Freightliner workers said they have children who attend Woodleaf Elementary now, including Mike Williams, who works in the TOS department at Freightliner.

Williams said he lives about two miles from the school.

“We’ve been doing this for quite a while,” he said. “We just really enjoy helping out and cutting up.”

Lawrence Anthony, a diesel technician at Freightliner, said his children used to go to school there.

“I enjoy helping the community, to pay a little tribute back to the community,” Anthony said. “And I love this school. It has a lot of history.”

Woodleaf Principal Susan Herrington said Day of Caring projects are always a big help to the school, and she appreciates the volunteers’ work.

“It really can add something extra to the school,” Herrington said. “Maintenance does a lot, but the finishing touches can make the school great.”

Beside the Salvation Army building on Bringle Ferry Road, a team from the city of Salisbury’s street department constructed an outdoor shelter. They built a wooden frame, added rafters and installed a red metal roof.

Ricky Walls, supervisor, said the department has been participating in the Day of Caring for 13 or 14 years.

“I think it’s neat. It really is,” Walls said. “We like doing it. I hope if we ever have a need, someone would do it for us.”

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

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