From bare to blooming: Students transform courtyard at YMCA [Commercial-News, Danville, Ill.]By Mary Wicoff, Commercial-News, Danville, Ill.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Aug. 19--DANVILLE -- The young people dug holes, planted flowers and vegetables, and set up picnic tables. After working under the hot sun, they were tired and sweaty.
But it was worth it in the end.
Visitors to the Danville Family YMCA now have a nice place to sit outdoors and enjoy the flowers -- thanks to the efforts of the 4-H HealthY Clovers, the YM's summer camp and its Teen Reach program.
Tywon Gouard, youth director at the YMCA, said of the finished project, "It's going to be a marvelous break area where kids can do their homework and conduct meetings there." Employees and YM members can enjoy it, too.
On Tuesday, the youth showed off the finished project to representatives of the Alcoa Foundation, which had donated $1,000. Glen Lawson, operations manager, and Julie Peelman, human resources/procurer, were impressed with all the effort that went into transforming the bare courtyard into a colorful, relaxing place.
"Thank you for all of your hard work," Peelman told the young people. "You guys should all be proud."
She and Lawson examined the herbs, flowers and vegetables that the children had planted, and the birdbath, which was donated.
After the tour, Lawson gathered the children around and made them promise to finish school. He told them how "cool" manufacturing is -- especially when you get to operate the big machinery. But, he said, "You can't play with the big toys unless you ... "
"Go to school!" the children shouted.
"There are lots of opportunities out there, but you need to make sure you finish school," Lawson said.
The idea behind the Alcoa Foundation grant was to develop leadership skills in youth. As part of that, the young people chose a service project that would benefit the community while helping them learn skills such as solving conflicts, setting goals, developing leadership and others.
The students in the three groups decided on the project. They assessed the courtyard and made a list of what needed to be done.
The YMCA chipped in about $500, and the students made a presentation to Alcoa seeking the grant.
Kathy Fayard, Teen Reach coordinator, said the youth were learning to work together as a group. They also took turns assuming leadership roles and conducting committee meetings.
The 26 participants came from the YM's summer camp for those in sixth through eighth grades; the year-round after-school Teen Reach for fifth-graders through high school; and the 4-H Metro program sponsored by the Vermilion County University of Illinois Extension Service, with Nora Green as program coordinator.
"It's hard work, but it's good for the Y," Audrey Jenkins, 11, said, taking a break from planting flowers. "Hopefully, all this effort will pay off and everyone will see how good it is."
Fayard said, "They really worked hard. I'm proud of them."
After they planted perennials, herbs and vegetables -- including tomatoes, collard greens, lettuce, peas, spinach, onions and radishes -- the young people set up picnic tables and a swing set. They also had plans to make other improvements in the future.
Plus, they have big plans for the vegetables.
Jenkins suggested giving some of the produce to food pantries, selling the extra or making special dishes.
The Teen Reach participants, who meet year round, and other youth in YM programs will be in charge of nurturing the garden.
Gouard said, "This is an ongoing program that will be maintained by the students as they further develop their leadership skills."
Young Women Aware
Part of the Alcoa Foundation grant also went to Young Women Aware, a product of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Provena United Samaritans Medical Center Foundation and Danville School District 118.
Rebecca Monson, program coordinator of Young Women Aware, was present Tuesday to explain how the girls used the grant. That included making "beads of encouragement" to give to cancer patients, taking a tour of the Vermilion County Courthouse and conducting mock interviews.
Young Women Aware's goals are high school graduation, college obtainment and teen pregnancy prevention with a focus on abstinence.
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