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Amber Ridley washes brick walls Thursday at the Chattanooga Family & Youth Development building during United Way's Annual Day of Caring.

The hum of an orbital sander resonated Thursday in an old gym in the Westside community that had not been used in 30 years.

Volunteers cleaned through decades of dust to revitalize the facility so that it again may be a place for recreation.

"Think about if you had to go out and raise money for a civic center or gym on the Westside. How much money would that be?" said United Way's 2013 Annual Campaign Chairman Tom Decosimo. "We've had this beautiful facility all of the time."

The gym, once used as a storage room inside the Chattanooga Family & Youth Development Center on West 12th Street, was one of 82 projects volunteers took on to commemorate the National Day of Caring on Thursday.

More than 600 people participated, giving their time and skills to benefit 37 nonprofit agencies.

At other Day of Caring sites, volunteers sorted Stuff the Bus school supply donations, did gardening, read to students at East Lake Elementary School and did stadium maintenance at Engel Stadium.

"This is about uniting people and resources, and making the community a better place," Decosimo said.

The United Way has organized A Day of Caring for more than 20 years. And after Congress designated Sept. 11 as the National Day of Service and Remembrance on Sept. 11, 2009, volunteer agencies across the country agreed to have their community volunteer projects on or as close to Sept. 11th as possible.

ACE Hardware brought out a crew of volunteers to restore the old gym. Wearing blue jeans, yellow gloves and red T-shirts, volunteers stepped through thick dirt and cobwebs to tackle grease-covered red brick walls. Another group cleaned and buffed the floor, and others sawed wood to replace a water-damaged portion of the hardwood floor.

"Call it an unused asset," said Wayne Collins, United Way's vice president of communications and marketing. He stopped washing down bleachers to pull a splinter from his hand. "You've got the whole gym, and beyond the gym you've got the stage. Can you imagine what you could do with something like this."

The Chattanooga Family & Youth Development Center building was previously called Second District and it was a school for blacks during segregation. City officials moved there in 1981 and called it the Chattanooga Human Services building. They used the gym as storage space from then on until Lurone "Coach" Jennings, the city's Department of Youth and Family Development administrator, asked if restoring the old gym could be a project for the National Day of Caring, Collins said.

Deputy Administrator Donna Stone said the word GYM is an acronym for Grandparents, Youth and Multipurpose, and that describes the intended purpose of the facility after the cleanup. The gym will be available to seniors in the foster grandparents' program. Youths in the child development center will use the gym when weather prevents outdoor play. The gym will also be available for community meetings.

"We're in a community that has so many needs," she said. "And we hope to meet some of them."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.