Earnest faces clustered around Scott Roewer as he poured creamy rivulets of paint from a five-gallon container into paint trays lined along a smudged wall at the National Children's Center in Southeast Washington.
"You want some gloves?" someone asked as the white paint trickled over Roewer's fingers.
Roewer, 30, shook his head and waved his sticky hands. "What fun would this be without getting a little paint on me?" he said.
Roewer was one of 1,500 volunteers who turned out yesterday to paint, pick up trash, plant gardens, refurbish playgrounds and perform other work for area nonprofit groups.
The effort was part of the annual D.C. Servathon -- one of the region's largest annual volunteer events -- which brought badly needed free labor to 50 community centers, schools, low-income housing groups, child-care centers, soup kitchens and other organizations.
The event also raised $200,000 for its sponsoring group, Greater D.C. Cares, a District-based organization that promotes and coordinates volunteerism.
At the National Children's Center's block-long site, 40 Servathon volunteers pitched in to spruce up the nine-year-old facility, which treats 200 physically and emotionally disabled children from across the area.
"We've been trying to get this place painted for a couple of years," said Felicia Valdez, director of programs for the Children's Center, as volunteers clad in white "D.C. Servathon" T-shirts swarmed over the building. But the cost, and the fact that the center is full of children and staff members five days a week, had made that impossible, she said.
For some Servathon helpers, yesterday was their first volunteer experience -- and their first time wielding a paint roller.
"That's why you find it all over me and not on the wall," laughed Amal Hamed, 37, a translator for the International Monetary Fund who, less than an hour into the work, managed to spatter paint over her face and head scarf and smudge it on her pants.
"Let's just say we won't get the highest wages for this work," said Ray McFarland, 50, who owns a Landover trade-show company, as he used a dripping paint roller to tackle the walls of a therapy room at the center. Children's Center employees had covered a colorful mural in the room so no one would paint over it.
McFarland's painting partner, public relations executive Judy Whittlesey, was more blunt: "We're more heart than talent."
That was just fine with the Children's Center staff members, who also helped.
"It will save us thousands of dollars," Executive Director Arthur Godfrey said.
Outside, volunteers Mimi Castaldi, Marsha Ralls and Sharon Dougherty chipped away at the hard soil to dig holes deep enough for leafy hostas and deep purple heucheras in the small gardens that flank the building's main entrance.
Ralls, a Georgetown art gallery owner, and Dougherty, an interior designer, carefully arranged and rearranged the plants in aesthetically pleasing designs before digging holes.
The gardens had been nothing but dirt for the past three years, Valdez said, after the previous plants were stolen.
"We're going to try" again, Valdez said as she sprayed water on the new landscaping, "and we'll see what happens."
To raise funds for Greater D.C. Cares, Servathon volunteers paid $10 each and were asked to solicit pledges from family and friends. Ralls, 42, sent an e-mail solicitation to 60 friends, clients and business associates and collected $4,000, making her one of the event's biggest individual fundraisers.
The Servathon, in its 13th year, expanded the number of projects it undertakes -- from two dozen to 50 -- to try to expand volunteer involvement in the event, said Siobhan Canty, chief executive of Greater D.C. Cares.
"We really wanted . . . to engage people in the spirit of volunteering in their own neighborhoods," she said.
Most of the volunteers at the Children's Center, however, came as part of work groups from such organizations as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and Bank of America.
Angie Berry, 38, who works for Bank of America, brought her daughters, Gina, 11, and Courtney, 14. "I thought it would be good for them," she said as they rolled paint on the walls of a small office. Along with learning about community service, the girls are picking up a skill, Berry said.
"I told them [that] after today, they can paint their rooms," she said.
Roewer brought three people from his company, Engineering Service Network in Crystal City, including his boss, Kasey Diaz, and her husband, Kevin.
"We're one of the smallest teams," Roewer said, "but we're strong and mighty."