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Helping Hands : Corporation Employees Join to Construct Some Love and Care for Abused Youngsters

May 21, 1988|MARK I. PINSKY | Times Staff Writer

Although the cast assembled in Anaheim Hills last Saturday numbered only in the hundreds, and the goal was not to build Rome in a day, the spectacle was inspiring.

In the morning, there was a virtually empty field. By sunset, Canyon Acres Residential Center for physically and sexually abused children looked like a cross between a dude ranch and summer camp.

While the children were away on a camping trip, 570 volunteers from nearly 40 Orange County corporations gathered at the 4.5-acre treatment center to build two gazebos, a baseball field, a parking lot, a playground, a large horse corral, a brick barbecue, concrete bicycle and trash enclosures; paint several buildings, inside and out; lay irrigation pipes; clear brush and plant trees.

All in a matter of hours.

Estimates of the value of the contributions--goods, services and labor--ranged from $250,000 to more than $350,000. In addition, the city of Anaheim helped by expediting various permits, according to Dan McQuaid, Canyon Acres' tall, tanned executive director.

The complex volunteer effort was coordinated by Suzanne Huffmon Esber, director of community affairs for the Fluor Corp. and chairman of the daylong project.

Esber was enthusiastic about the "great camaraderie" of the day. "All levels of people are here," she said. "No one knows what their titles are."

The work done Saturday was aimed at improving the quality of the existing treatment program and to pave the way for a planned expansion.

"We have a 20-bed capacity and we're always full," said McQuaid, a licensed clinical social worker who has been with Canyon Acres since it was founded eight years ago.

"We're able to realize our potential with this project," he said as he strolled between buildings the week before the volunteers arrived. In 1980, "I had an idea what it could be. I didn't think it would take so long. We struggled to survive for several years. Now it's nice to think what we will be, not wonder if we will be."

Canyon Acres, a non-sectarian, nonprofit organization, was purchased in 1987 for $760,000, with about 75% of the operating funds coming from state and federal grants.

But no government money is available to make capital improvements on the grounds, which is why McQuaid applied to the Corporate Combined Volunteer Project.

The 4-year-old Corporate Combined Volunteer Project, in cooperation with the Volunteer Centers of Orange County, chooses one project each year to assist in a coordinated way, making use of the varied resources of the local private sector. The application process is open to all nonprofit organizations in the county. Previous projects included daylong efforts at the Santa Ana Zoo, the Discovery Museum and the Bright Light Center for disadvantaged children. More companies and more volunteers have participated each successive year, according to Sandra Wood of ITT Cannon, who handled public relations for the project.

On Saturday, several of the volunteers--who ranged from company presidents to truck drivers--compared the efforts to a Chinese mass work project.

But to McQuaid, 37, the day's work was more like an old-fashioned American barn-raising, and properly so.

"Child abuse is a community problem," McQuaid said. "Everybody owns the problem."

Some of the biggest and best-known corporate names were on hand to help: Disneyland volunteers worked on a new parking lot; the Irvine Co. and Avco dug irrigation ditches; Pacific Financial painted rooms; Unocal and McDonnell Douglas sank corral fence posts; Carl's Jr. provided lunch.

Most of the corporate teams came to the event dressed in identically colored T-shirts with company names and logos. From the long driveway, the different clusters of color scattered over the grounds made the dusty brown landscape look like a patchwork quilt.

Under the hot sun, many of the shirts were soon darkened with sweat, but the spirits of the volunteers did not appear dampened.

Vicki Boatman of McDonnell Douglas was keeping an eye on her team, which was working with a group from Unocal, when one of her volunteers came up to complain that his hammer was missing.

"The toughest part of this job is keeping the tools straight," she said with a laugh.

Nancy Dingus, also of Fluor, was working with an electric sander for the first time, smoothing a new piece of playground equipment the company had designed and constructed. In addition to feeling good about her contribution, she said: "I'm proud of the skill I've picked up."

"Usually, I sit behind a desk and write code," said Henry Bartley of Unisys in Mission Viejo, after spending the morning working on the softball field. "It's nice to work outside."

Mike Tierney, the team coordinator for Unisys, found the experience interesting in a lot of ways. A carpenter during the week, he found himself supervising a group composed largely of white-collar workers as they leveled the infield.

"These people are all engineers and paper-pushers," he said.

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