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25 Day of Service celebrates 25th year of volunteering

Tuesday - 12/25/2012, 8:49am  ET

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Volunteers at the Jewish Community Center warm up with some songs. The Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center estimates 1,000 people are participating in volunteer projects across the city. (WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)

Andrew Mollenbeck, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The holidays are full of traditions, and for more than 25 years, local volunteers have spent Christmas Day giving back to the community.

About 1,000 volunteers participated in projects with 50 local social service agencies. The Dec. 25 Day of Service started before dawn on Christmas morning and will continue to about 6 p.m.

"The projects include everything from preparing food for the homeless, to serving meals, to visiting with home-bound seniors, delivering gifts to immigrants and refugees in the area," says Erica Steen, the director of community engagement at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center.

Though the event is organized by the Jewish community, Steen says people of all faiths and ages volunteer.

"We have kids who are 3 and 4 years old, and we have volunteers who are in their 70s and 80s," she says.

Two groups painted a health center and a homeless shelter. Other volunteers delivered bags of gifts, went caroling and played games with people unable to leave their homes.

Sarah Ousley's volunteer experience was an emotional one.

For the first 16 months of her life, she remained in a children's hospital. On Tuesday, she returned to that hospital for the first time in almost 20 years.

"Going back there was really moving, and it was a really eye-opening experience just to see all the kids," she says.

She sang, played the French horn and helped children open presents.

Two young boys in wheel chairs had the biggest impact on her, she says.

"We were playing the music, and he was rocking in time in his wheel chair," Ousley says. "The feel of the music did something for him."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)