​MADD: A Community Testimony to Caring

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At elementary schools across the Plateau, students, parents and community volunteers came together on March 3, to make a difference, engaging in activities ranging from mundane tasks such as cleaning air vents to painting murals and constructing picnic tables and bike shelters. The Make a Difference Day (MADD) program sponsored by the South Cumberland Community Fund (SCCF) made $1,000 in funding available at each school for projects of the schools’ choosing, to be completed by community volunteers. Approximately 400 people pitched in to help.
“It’s good for the kids to know it takes a lot of people to get this stuff done,” said Sewanee Elementary (SES) parent Katie McGhee. “That’s really a good message.”
The SCCF initiated the Make a Difference Day program in the fall of 2015 said committee chair Bonnie McCardell. A SCCF competition asked students, “If you had $1,000, how would you improve your community?” with the winning proposals receiving $1,000 in funding. At the high school level, the St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School project to help with the Fiery Gizzard reroute won. At the elementary school level, SES and Coalmont Elementary School (CES) tied. SES planted fruit trees, while CES planted a community garden and created little free libraries.
“The MADD committee didn’t feel like competition between the schools was a good long-term direction,” McCardell said. Last year the committee offered funding to all the Plateau area elementary schools, with the amount varying depending on the projects proposed. This year the committee decided it was “fairer” to provide all the schools with the same amount.
At SES, in addition to constructing and painting picnic tables and clearing the nature trail, volunteers mulched and weeded flower and vegetable beds, made bird feeders, painted rocks for the rock sanctuary, and set up for the book fair. McCardell praised Sarah Marhevsky and the Sewanee Parents Organization (SPO) for their work behind the scenes coordinating projects.
“Transforming the library into a bookstore takes a lot of effort,” said SES librarian Kathryn Bruce, who oversaw volunteers unpacking books from cartons and setting up table displays. The chore usually falls to SPO volunteers according to Bruce. Coordinating the book fair setup with MADD involved new families in the project.
At Monteagle Elementary (MES), in addition to constructing a bike shelter, volunteers cleared privet and honeysuckle from the fence row and mounted cabinets in the art room.
“I’m really pleased with the turnout,” said MES Principal Janet Lane. Volunteers lined up to register at MES extended from the hallway into the parking lot.
“We ran out of the right size T-shirts,” said Tim Moser, MES VISTA coordinator.
The MADD committee assigned a VISTA volunteer to each school, McCardell said, extending gratitude to the VISTAs for their help in coordinating the event. With a goal of eradicating poverty, the nonprofit AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) sponsors volunteers who live and work alongside community members to advance local solutions.
“Twice as many people showed up as we expected,” said Tracy City Elementary School VISTA Emily Senefeld.
More than 80 people registered at TCES. “People will finish one thing and come to me asking, ‘What can we do now?’” said Principal Glenda Dykes.
The TCES mural designed by Megan Roberts of Sewanee depicts the transformation of eighth graders from Tracy City Eagles to Grundy County Hornets, the Grundy County High School mascot.
Other Tracy City projects included planting pine trees to camouflage the sanitation plant pumping station, cleaning the gym and hallway air vents, painting stepping stones for the flower garden, and releasing the butterflies the students had watched change from lava to chrysalis to winged beauties.
The cool weather prevented SES from painting a U.S. map on the pavement at the rear of the school, said VISTA Emily Heid. “The temperature needs to stay above 50 degrees for 24 hours for the paint to dry properly,” Heid explained.
The U.S. map is on the list for the future. At MES the wish list includes refurbishing the fence, while TCES wants to paint the gym.
The most frequent answer people gave when asked why they came was, “I wanted to help the school.”
Said MES volunteer David Campbell, “We need to be invested in the children’s lives. It’s good to see such a big turnout. It shows that people care.”