WATERLOO — Amanda Ford wore a bright orange safety vest and a huge smile as she joined a new group of volunteers working to keep the Cedar Valley trails safe.
Ford is a participant in Exceptional Persons Inc.’s Day Habilitation program, which kicked off a new venture with the Cedar Trails Partnership and Waterloo Leisure Services Friday by clearing trails along Black Hawk Creek.
“I just like volunteering in general,” Ford said. “I love doing mission work. It makes me happy to help others and see their reactions.”
EPI’s Day Habilitation program helps more than 70 persons with disabilities develop life skills and connect with their community.
Tom Engelbrecht, EPI’s business developer, said Day Hab volunteers have helped dozens of other organizations over the years and gained valuable experience in the process.
“It’s really aimed toward building life skills, social skills,” he said. “We find that going out and volunteering is a great way to do that.”
“We’ve even had people use connections they’ve made out here for job references on applications,” he added. “It’s a great way for them not only to get out and work on these things but to give back to the community as well.”
Engelbrecht reached out to the Cedar Trails Partnership recently about volunteer opportunities and was connected with Waterloo Leisure Services. The partnership includes the trail maintenance work but will branch out into helping clean up parks next spring.
“The volunteer work that EPI is proposing to do will be of great benefit to the community,” said City Forester Todd Derifield. “We are excited about this partnership.”
Roger White, volunteer coordinator for the Cedar Trails Partnership, joined the roughly 20 Day Hab volunteers and EPI staff who began working near the Robinson Bird Sanctuary Friday.
“This is our first time partnering with EPI,” he said. “It’s going to be a learning experience for all of us. But I’m excited about what we can do to make the trails more hospitable.”
White secured some of the tools to help the volunteers do their work.
“There are various things out there on the trail that are a hazard,” White said. “Walnuts are a real problem. You can go down in a hurry if you hit one of those.”
The Day Habilitation group also volunteers at the Cedar Bend Humane Society, Sunrise Petting Zoo, Northeast Iowa Food Bank, various assisted living centers and other locations in Waterloo and Cedar Falls.
“When the word ‘volunteering’ comes up in a conversation, I want people to think ‘EPI,’” Engelbrecht said. “It’s truly one of those win-win opportunities.”