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At the North Bay Children's Center preschool in Santa Rosa, a team of Agilent technicians and engineers spent Wednesday afternoon creating a slightly safer environment for toddlers.

The tech workers installed wooden railing barriers for a classroom wheelchair ramp. The work replaced dull plastic meshing that had to be replaced at least twice a year because of vandalism and its lack of resistance to the sun.

The work was part of the local United Way's Day of Caring event, a once-a-year volunteer event that kicks off the organization's fund-raising campaign season. The event connects local businesses with nonprofit agencies that need some kind of work done but have trouble paying for it.

"It's amazing. It's such an honor that they chose us and came out to provide their services," said Kimberlie Milus, the preschool senior site supervisor.

Wednesday's volunteer efforts involved more than 1,000 do-gooders working on 42 projects in Sonoma County that included painting, construction, landscaping and general maintenance. Some 29 non-profit agencies benefited, including Catholic Charities Family Support Center, Social Advocates for Youth, the Santa Rosa Boys and Girls Club, the California Parenting Institute and the Redwood Empire Food Bank.

Within the next month, United Way of the Wine County also will hold Day of Caring events in Mendocino and Humboldt counties and at Sonoma State University. The latter event usually draws 500 to 600 students.

"With United Way, people can help in three ways — they can give, advocate and volunteer and today is a big day for volunteering," said Mike Kallhoff, president and CEO of United Way of the Wine Country.

Hal Mulligan, an electronics technician, was one of 420 Agilent employees who took part in the day-long event. Agilent traditionally provides one of the largest shares of volunteers for the event.

"I enjoy doing construction, working as part of a team and helping out where I can," said Mulligan, who has participated in the charity event with Agilent for the past 10 years. "It's obviously real nice that the company gives us time off to do this and supports us any way it can."

At Canine Companions in Santa Rosa, volunteers worked on several projects, including painting curbs, landscaping along a dog run, rebuilding a picnic table and power washing buildings and sidewalks.

Scott Conrad, IT director for Santa Rosa Junior College, headed the college's team of about 50 people, half of whom were students. The others included members of the faculty and administration.

Just before lunch Wednesday, Conrad and a handful of others began making custom-built portable barriers to be used during dog training session.

Conrad said that last year he spent the entire day power-washing and the day after that he and others cleaned and painted the Family Support center homeless shelter inside and out. He he still remembers the looks on the kids' faces when they re-entered the shelter.

"It's fun, you get to work with people you don't normally work with," he said. "And it's great to help out. It's a good way to give back to the community."

Other organizations that provided volunteers were Sonoma County, City of Santa Rosa, Exchange Bank, Redwood Credit Union, JDS Uniphase and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, among others.

Kallhoff, the United Way CEO, said he spent Wednesday driving from one project site to another to see all the work that was being done.

"You look at before and after pictures, they've really done some remarkable things," he said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.)

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