Forty employees of Decker Communications were in Sonoma last week for a corporate 2018 kick-off retreat. Upon finishing their lunch at the Sonoma Mission Inn on Jan. 25, they were surprised to see a school bus pull up in front of the hotel. But they knew they would be taking a break from meetings, and they had been told to dress casually for the afternoon and ready to work.

As their bus pulled to a stop on Broadway, they were amused to learn that for the next four hours they would be heading back to high school – Sonoma Valley High School.

Amelia McCormick was in charge of Decker’s conference schedule and she wanted to schedule an activity with the staff that would be both a change of pace and a meaningful way to give back. She reached out to the nonprofit Hands On Bay Area for ideas.

Kaytlyn Hanes, an event specialist at Hands On Bay Area, said that her organization had not yet organized volunteers as far north as Sonoma but she was game to try to make something happen for them. She was put in contact with SVHS elective department head Peter Hansen, who had the perfect project for them.

Hansen invited the team, with the enthusiastic support of Principal Kathleen Hawing and maintenance supervisor Tony Albini, onto the campus to transform the outdoor area next to the school art gallery and K building into a beautiful, welcoming art garden.

Hands On Bay Area works with local nonprofits, schools and parks to identify high-impact, group-based volunteer projects. For corporate partners, they work with companies to further their corporate social responsibility goals by engaging their employees in hands-on volunteer service.

In 2016, Hands On mobilized more than 20,000 volunteers, resulting in more than 69,000 hours of service to more than 270 schools, parks and nonprofits across the Bay Area.

For four hours on Thursday afternoon, the Decker employees weeded and dug and sanded and painted and generally spruced up the abandoned area outside of the school’s two art rooms. The team spread new soil, installed ground coverings, benches, pathways, plantings, painted garbage cans and began a mural.

“Everyone on our team really seemed to love it,” said McCormick. “It was a great break from sitting in meetings.”

Hands On will bring another crew to SVHS on Saturday, March 3, for another day of service for other projects. The schools’ leadership team will be joining in to help out as well.