SANTA ANA — Her days are usually filled with surveys, charts and demographics. But on Saturday, 28-year-old Tonya Todd left the corporate life behind and found herself digging weeds, contending with bugs and fighting allergies--all in the name of community service.
Todd, a product planner at ITT Cannon/ElectroMechanical Components in Santa Ana, was one of about 600 corporate employees who left their briefcases at home for the day and undertook the task of upgrading the buildings and grounds of the 11-acre Discovery Museum of Orange County.
"Believe it or not, I find this kind of exciting," said Todd, between sniffles. "I have a condo, and I never get to do any gardening. I just made sure I loaded up on allergy pills this morning so I would be able to make it through the day."
The museum is the site of educational programs for about 20,000 students each year and was selected for the 1990 Corporate Combined Volunteer Project, which puts to work everyone from vice presidents and secretaries to engineers and mail clerks from 31 Orange County corporations. The project was begun in 1985 to promote corporate volunteerism and to help meet the needs of local, nonprofit organizations.
Team spirit was high throughout the day as employees, clad in matching company T-shirts, bantered back and forth and hammered, painted, dug, planted, pruned and weeded into the late afternoon.
This year, volunteers from McDonnell Douglas Corp. and Unisys Corp. worked all day to restore a 90-year-old water tower that was moved to the museum in 1982. Volunteers replaced the tower's rotted wood, installed insulation and electrical wiring and prepared to coat the once-dilapidated structure with green paint. By the end of the day, the 22-foot-high building looked much like its former self and will serve as the museum's gift shop and information center, said Mary Lynne Hummes, museum spokesperson.
"Quite frankly, if it were not for the efforts of these people, these renovations and improvements just wouldn't be getting done," Hummes said. "Restoring that tower would've taken a very long time, and these people are getting it done in one day."
Unisys employee Scott Sheridan was one of several workers who insulated the tower. The Mission Viejo resident said he plays volleyball on the beach most Saturdays, but he said this project was worth the sacrifice.
"I think it's a great thing to do for people who need help," Sheridan said. "It's community service, and there's not a lot of bureaucracy you have to go through. You just show up ready to work."
In addition to restoring the tower, volunteers also built a shade structure on the grounds, planted flowers, pulled weeds, painted chairs and railings, renovated a portable classroom, built a brick patio and repainted the historic 1898 Hiram Clay Kellog House, which has been used for school tours since 1985.
In all, 250 gallons of paint, 2,500 bricks, four cubic yards of sand, 95 lattice panels and 2,000 square feet of concrete were used to complete the improvements, said Unisys employee Mike Tierney, who served as the project's materials and logistics coordinator.
Volunteers weren't just limited to corporate employees, as a number of spouses also pitched in. Some came willingly, but others, like Greg Golen, had to be convinced.
"I was given a choice," said 37-year-old Golen of Laguna Niguel. "It was either stay home and clean the house or come with my wife and pull tumbleweeds. I chose tumbleweeds."
Golen and his wife, Cheryl, were among the 30 representatives from Bergen Brunswig Corp. in Orange who had what was sarcastically referred to as "tumbleweed patrol."
Susan Hannah was thankful to be moved from the dreaded "tumbleweed patrol" to just plain weeding right before noon. The 36-year-old programmer from Beckman Instruments wore a floppy straw hat and gardening gloves as she weeded a spot near the water tower.
"What's going on here today is just amazing," Hannah said. "There's an awful lot you can do with 600 people that you wouldn't be able to do all by yourself."