- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 14, 2002

Thousands of volunteers converged on the grounds of a Northeast high school yesterday to show District students they care and want their school environments to be clean, fresh and pleasing to the eye.
A crowd of about 1,500 gathered in front of Eastern High School on East Capitol Street early in the morning, ready to spend much of the day sprucing up 31 District schools around the city and raising money for scholarships.
Prisca DeLeonardo, 41, a lawyer who works at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), recruited a group of colleagues to join in the spring cleanup effort. Ms. DeLeonardo, who lives in Alexandria, said clean schools motivate students.
"I believe it helps educationally. This type of effort gives children an environment that's fun to learn in. Our job at EEOC is to ensure everybody has an equal employment opportunity. But it's hard to have that without first having an equal education opportunity. By fixing up the schools, it makes students want to learn because they're proud of their schools," she said.
Lawyers such as Ms. DeLeonardo, accountants, computer analysts and lots of other white-collar workers showed up to support Hands on D.C., a nonprofit organization founded in 1994 by Jen Coken and Jacqueline Davis, who wanted to make a difference in the lives of District students.
The all-volunteer organization coordinates an annual citywide Work-A-Thon to improve the condition of public schools. Volunteers young and old rolled up their sleeves and got down and dirty during the eighth year of the event.
The 1,500 volunteers who gathered at Eastern joined 1,000 across the quadrants of the city. Projects included painting school hallways and stairwells at Janney Elementary School in Northwest, mulching flower beds and trees in and around school grounds at West Elementary School in Northwest, installing computers at Van Ness Elementary School in Southeast and, at Backus Middle School in Northeast, refurbishing a memorial for students killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The day began with a Hands on D.C. rally at 9 a.m. with a welcoming address from Jerome Shelton, the principal of Eastern High School, also known as the "Pride of Capitol Hill."
Ray Suarez, the keynote speaker for the event and a senior correspondent for "The NewsHour" with Jim Lehrer, called the volunteers "first-aid workers" for the urban student body.
When the rally ended, the area cleared out, but 138 volunteers stayed at Eastern to pick up trash around the school grounds, paint lockers, mulch flower beds and trees, paint the floors in the school's sub-basement and paint heavily traveled stairwells in the five-story building. To do the job, the group used about 150 bags of oak-bark mulch on the school's grounds and 25 gallons of paint inside the building.
Before any work at Eastern High School began, site coordinator David Rostker, 30, a staffer for Hands on D.C., made sure his charges knew the deal. He emphasized the importance of prep work before any paint was spread on the walls. There was lots of taping to ensure clean demarcation lines. Cleanup was another biggie for Mr. Rostker, a volunteer with the organization since 1997. Last but not least, he didn't want to begin a project the group couldn't complete.
"The goal is to finish what we start. We're only going to do what we know can be completed. I don't want to leave projects half done [for school facilities managers] to have to complete," Mr. Rostker said.
Ms. DeLeonardo's team of 13 from the EEOC and other law firms and agencies completed their daunting task; they put a coat of white paint on heavily traveled Stairway 139 at Eastern Senior High School. The team started at 10 a.m., prepping the walls and taping. By 11:50 a.m., the job was done.
"We're finished, so we have been asked to do another project. We're going to put lettering over the stairwell doors to identify [specific school] areas," she said.

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