On Thursday afternoon, leadership wheelbarrows, honing their bucket brigades, and lots of shoveling were incorporated into a Leadership Blount Class of 2022 project that engaged students from the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Alcoa.
Two large loads of donated mulch were spread around the center playground using wheelbarrows and shovels provided by Blount County Habitat for Humanity and construction supervisor Doug Jenkins, who also happens to be in this current LB class. Other class members who were part of this effort included Jaina Castro, Lakishia Goss, Peter Iorio, Kathy Johnson and Amy Tankersly.
Also present for the day was Lilli Brown, Director of the MLK Center, who is another member of the LB Class of 2022. This is LB’s 30th class. The organization started in 1990. There have been over 1,000 graduates.
Johnson, who is senior vice president of CBBC, said there were 36 members of this LB class, as in the past. The members were divided into six groups of six people, each one having to come up with an idea for a community project. She said working at the MLK Center has become a priority for her group; adding mulch to the play area was a need that was brought to their attention.
Involving the kids from the center just made the experience more fun and a real team effort.
“We wanted to get the kids working so they could see what can be accomplished when everyone works together,” Johnson said. “Now when they play here they can say they played a role there.”
Brown oversaw student participation. At the start of the project, there was tons of help from K-5 students arriving after school. Children usually come in, are fed, do their homework, and then play outside, she said. But everything was on deck by 3 p.m. and the big pile of mulch had been delivered.
Participation in the MLK Center has grown over the past few years. Brown said that when she took over, she was told her registration would be around 50 or so.
There were more than 80 children on occasion, she said. Brown has asked for an expansion at the center but the money isn’t there, he was told. She received a new kitchen in the center, including cabinets, counters and a dishwasher.
The on-site playground was partially funded through a service project created by Alcoa Middle School teacher Miranda Talley, which raised $15,000. It was made to celebrate the memory of his son, Clark Reagan. Alcoa’s capital fund designated the remainder of the financing, $23,000.
The mulch for this project was donated by Jerry Teaster to Teaster’s Natural Creations and also Kellems. This LB Class of 2022 group was also able to supply four sets of nylon folding chairs that could seat 24 people. They can be stored when not in use.
Jenkins was busy helping students load mulch into wheelbarrows and buckets. He said the whole LB experience has been wonderful and a great way to learn more about his community. He said he feared he wouldn’t fit in, but had cultivated friendships among his classmates.
LB classes begin with orientation in August and graduate the following May. The class of 2022 will graduate on May 12. Jackie Eul, office and marketing coordinator for Leadership Blount, said a change has been made in recent years regarding class projects. instead of one large group, it was decided that smaller groups would bring greater involvement and impact.
“We put them into groups based on their interests,” she said. One of the other groups is working on something related to the importance of pre-kindergarten in the community. Another is working on a project based on ALICE – which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. These are families whose incomes are above the federal poverty level but who still struggle to pay their bills.
At the end of that day’s work, the MLK Community Center had a freshly mulched playground, a lot of energy was expended by the students, and the LB class members fulfilled their demands. A cricket discovered in the mulch by a student has regained its freedom.
The kids were also treated to hot dogs, chips and cotton candy from a local food truck.