The culmination of months of work was on display Wednesday at a ribbon cutting for the YMCA’s new outdoor adventure garden, next to the YMCA Pavilion play area in Albemarle. This is a partnership between the organization and United Way of Stanly County.
Children and volunteers from the YMCA’s summer camp program spent time each week building the 12 raised beds and planting crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers and herbs. Since there are still several weeks of camp left, not all beds have been fully planted.
“Children really deserve credit for creating this space for the community,” said United Way Executive Director Kelly Misiak, who helped develop the project, noting that part of her organization’s mission is to support education by supporting the public school system.
There had been a small garden in the area even though the beds were deteriorating. As an avid gardener, Misiak saw an opportunity to partner with the YMCA to help transform the space.
“We just wanted to rebuild the space to provide a really fun public outdoor space that encourages STEM learning and outdoor exploration in conjunction with the YMCA,” Misiak said.
Stanly County Family YMCA CEO George Crooker said he was excited about the partnership with United Way, noting how “lucky” the organization was to be able to work with Misiak.
“Kids need to learn this stuff (outdoors) and they’re not going to learn it in school,” Crooker said.
YMCA summer camps serve an average of 90 to 95 kids a week, he said.
“It’s great for the summer when you have time to invest and learn other traits behind schoolwork,” he said.
Since schools closed in early June, Misiak has been working with students, from kindergarten through sixth grade, to build the new garden.
Although Misiak and other adults chopped the wood and handled the power tools, the children built the majority of the beds and filled them with dirt.
“They were fantastic volunteers and so enthusiastic and ready to serve,” Misiak said.
Although the first few weeks were difficult for some children, especially the younger ones, once they got into the rhythm of building the garden, “they really started having fun and getting into it” , said Misiak.
As a reward for their work, the children will be able to take the fruits and vegetables home, Misiak said, adding that any surplus will likely be donated to the local pantry.
The project was primarily funded by the United Way Impact grant, which Misiak estimated at around $2,500, although donors also contributed.
Once complete, Misiak hopes the garden will be a space that everyone in the area can enjoy. United Way has also assembled STEM learning kits, which students will soon be able to pick up at the YMCA, which will include nature scavenger hunts, learning tools – such as magnifying glasses and plant identification books and animals – as well as other activities.
Misiak said contacts have been made with school administrators about the possibility of organizing field trips or service-learning projects.
“We hope the garden will become a resource for teachers so they can engage their students in a volunteer project while providing activities that reinforce what they learn in the classroom in an outdoor space,” she said. .
The main takeaway from Crooker with the new garden was the importance of local groups partnering with each other for the greater good.
“You can accomplish so much more when you partner and work together,” he said, noting that he would like to see more collaboration between groups and organizations in the future.
“You don’t have to be the Lone Ranger on stuff like this,” he added.
If anyone is interested in donating supplies, they can visit United Way’s donation page at www.UnitedWayStanly.org/Donate. United Way is also looking for more native plants to fill in flower beds. If people have ideas or want to share their own plants, they can contact Misiak at [email protected]