Public school students in the District of Columbia need their community’s help. The average District public school is more than 60 years old, and repairs across the city may cost more than $2 billion. Students who already face enormous challenges often have to learn in outdated and deteriorating buildings.

Poor infrastructure is not the only obstacle these students face. Those who do finish school often lack the money to go to college; too many others become dropouts because their futures seem so limited. The graduation rate for DC public high school students now hovers around 50% and only a fraction of graduates go on to college.

These conditions are why Hands on DC exists. It helps students by:

  • Refurbishing schools to create a better environment for learning, which allows the school system to focus on larger maintenance issues;
  • Raising funds to support local scholarship programs; and
  • Educating volunteers about public education in the District and the opportunities to become involved in lives of students.

Hands on DC sent an important message to our children: The community cares about your future. Hands on DC is a community-based non-profit organization run entirely by volunteers. It is dedicated to creating better schools and brighter futures for District of Columbia public school students.

What is Hands on DC and How Is It Organized?

Hands on DC is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that conducts an annual citywide Work-A-Thon to improve schools in the DC Public School system. Hands on DC also raises funds to support local college scholarship programs and encourages greater community involvement in the public schools.

At the center of Hands on DC is the Organizing Committee. This group of 40 to 50 volunteers breaks itself into committees responsible for recruitment, publicity, fundraising, and projects. Overseeing their efforts are two Event Directors, who are elected by the previous year’s volunteers. The Organizing Committee meets once a month as a group, and its members spend many more hours working alone or in small groups in order to make the event a success.

Hands on DC also has a Board of Directors that focuses on long-term organizational goals and provides guidance to the Organizing Committee. The members of the Board are previous Event Directors and other individuals with a long history of participation in Hands on DC. The Board also appoints a Treasurer to manage its finances.

After each year’s event, Hands on DC conducts an evaluation workshop with its Organizing Committee. Feedback from volunteers and school officials is collected in our annual report and also forms the basis for adjustments to the following year’s program.

How Was Hands on DC Started?

Hands on DC was founded in the Fall of 1994 by a half-dozen friends who wanted to improve the quality of life in Washington. They were particularly concerned by reports about poor conditions in the District’s public schools and dedicated themselves to helping local students get a better education.

On May 1, 2004, Hands on DC marked a major milestone – we completed our tenth annual Work-a-Thon. At that time, our 2,500 volunteers conducted more than 325 projects in 41 different DC public schools and raised more than $32,000 in college scholarship funds for College Bound, a local tutoring and mentoring program.

Today, Hands on DC continues to create “Brighter Schools and Better Futures” for DC students. Since 1994, more than 30,000 volunteers have created a better environment for learning in more than 130 DC schools and have funded more than $600,000 in college scholarship contributions for DC public school students.

What are Hands on DC Work-A-Thons?

Hands on DC runs a series of Work-a-Thons held each spring and fall. During the Work-a-Thon, volunteers spend the day at one of about 30 DC public schools. Their work typically involves projects such as painting, cleaning, or landscaping. Other projects require greater skills and resources, such as repairing bathrooms, laying carpet, building tree boxes or wiring classrooms for Internet access. Hands on DC sends 2,000 volunteers to schools at Work-a-Thon events each year.

Creating a better environment for learning is just one of the ways volunteers help local students. They also collect pledges that fund college scholarships administered by local tutoring and mentoring organizations, and they learn about the condition of and the people involved in the schools. That knowledge helps build support for public education.

The volunteers for the Work-a-Thon come from across metropolitan Washington area. We recruit from government offices, local businesses, universities, and churches, as well as encouraging participation from the city’s public school students.

How Does Hands on DC Select the Work-A-Thon Schools?

Public schools throughout the District of Columbia must apply to Hands on DC to be considered for the Work-a-Thon. The Hands on DC Sites Committee then selects schools to be part of the Work-a-Thon based on the schools’ need and those which best match the skills and abilities of Hands on DC volunteers to help. Among other factors that are considered is the school’s overall commitment to be involved in the Work-a-Thon and the events leading up to it. As part of the process, committee members visit public schools throughout DC, consult with principals and maintenance staff, and identify possible projects.

How Does Hands on DC Fund its Activities?

As with all our activities, the annual fundraising program is run entirely by volunteers; the organization does not use professional fundraisers or consultants. The Fundraising Committee works with the Board of Directors and a committee of other volunteers to raise the funds needed to run the event each year. This money comes from corporations, foundations, and individuals and goes toward the purchase supplies for the Work-A-Thon. The pledges raised by volunteers on the day of the event, as well as additional funds raised from corporations and foundations, go directly to the scholarship fund. Scholarships are distributed with the help of other local non-profit organizations, such as College Bound and Higher Achievement Program.

How Does Hands on DC Use Donations?

We use donations from corporations and foundations to purchase the materials our volunteers use. Some are durable goods, such as paint rollers, brushes, rakes, shovels, and edgers. Some are disposable supplies, such as paint and mulch. Contributions also pay for the materials needed to publicize the event, such as posters, recruiting brochures and pledge forms, which help us recruit an ample supply of volunteers to complete the projects at the schools and to raise scholarship funds.

Last year, out of each dollar raised for operating expenses, 50¢ was spent on painting, landscaping and special project supplies, both to be used in the schools and to maintain our inventory. We also spent 11¢ on equipment rentals, transportation costs, and inventory storage. In addition, Hands on DC spent 8¢ of each dollar on publicity to attract volunteers to the event and 6¢ on T-shirts. Finally, 12¢ was spent on insurance and 13¢ went to unavoidable administrative expenses such as telephone service, legal/filing fees, bank charges, accounting, postage, and photocopying.

How Does Hands on DC Find Volunteers?

The Volunteer Management Committee is in charge of finding volunteers to work during the annual Work-A-Thon and does so through word-of-mouth, monthly happy hours, electronic communication, and advertising opportunities through online resources such as Volunteer Match, and Craigslist. Teams represent a mosaic of the Washington community – university groups, church-related groups, corporate teams, small businesses, alumni organizations, and simply groups of friends.

Learn more about volunteering with Hands on DC