Students in Dobyns-Bennett High School's Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter and horticulture class are learning the meaning of horticultural therapy (“the use of plants and gardens for human healing and rehabilitation”) first-hand.
Their teacher, Kerrie Sluder, coordinated a beautification project partnership with Katherine Scoggins, executive director of Shepherd Center of Kingsport, to spruce up the yards and hopefully the lives of two neighbors residing on the same street in Kingsport.
The idea came from Sluder's former students, Madison and Hannah, who expressed a desire to start their own hometown counterpart to HGTV's “Curb Appeal: The Block” series, which highlights external home makeovers to homes on the same block resulting in the improvement of the entire neighborhood's 'curb appeal.'
Sluder researched possible funding outlets for the project and discovered the Youth Service America (YSA) organization, which supplies grants nationwide in support of youth beautification projects to be performed cumulatively on Global Youth Service Day (April 26-28). There were over 2,000 projects registered in 96 countries worldwide for Global Youth Service Day, making it the largest service event in the world.
“I wrote a grant based on the 'Curb Appeal' idea and we got $1,000 [from YSA] to beautify two to three homes, however much we could do with the funds that were available,” Sluder explained. Stipulations of the grant include reporting progress to the State Farm Good Neighbor program and setting up a website for the project.
The horticulture teacher's first contact was Robin Cleary with Keep Kingsport Beautiful, who put her in contact with Scoggins at the Shepherd Center, an organization where she felt the money “would be best used.”
The Shepherd Center, a non-profit United Way agency, supplies adults 55 and older with projects and services to preserve their independence, keeping them safe and in their own homes longer.
Through Shepherd Center, Scoggins gave Sluder the names of two ideal candidates to receive the mini home makeovers: Arlis Smith and Ruth Parsons. The two women are good friends and neighbors; Mrs. Smith is recently widowed and Mrs. Parsons required some minor assistance with home and garden projects in general.
“They just fit what we needed,” Sluder said.
Due to school testing, the project could not get under way on Global Service Day. Therefore, a later date was chosen. During class time on May 17, Sluder, along with approximately 40 to 45 students from her three classes used the grant money to purchase supplies from Lowe's (who they would like to thank for their generosity). They then pruned, mulched, potted and hung plants, replaced lattice and even did a little painting, under the direction and specific needs of Smith and Parsons.
In addition to the two yards, “we're really hoping that we have enough [funds] to surprise one more lucky person,” Sluder said.
The project may carry over to the summer, but many of my students would still be willing to help.
“They are very enthusiastic about being able to change someone's outlook by just changing the way their home looks,” she explained.
Sluder's students, whom she titled “self starters,” learn life lessons in her class as well as plant care, how to operate a greenhouse and landscape. Future projects like “Curb Appeal” are already being discussed and, with the support of fellow DB faculty members, non-profit organizations and the community as a whole, she believes a real difference can be made in yards and subsequently people's lives all across the region.
The most important thing, Sluder said, is “for [the students] to see the impact that they can make in somebody's life.”