July 2, 2018
A 200-pound planter box sat in the shed of Lynhurst Baptist Church Preschool for weeks – Gail Wolfe, the preschool director, had no idea how she was going to move it. That planter box represented the beginning of the preschool’s community garden, where children and staff would grow food to serve to the students and community. She assumed she would need an army of men to move the heavy wooden box. But to her surprise, a group of women associated with the Alpha Mu Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA) united to help move the box and much, much more on a rainy day in May.
It all began when Akilah Darden became co-chair of the AKA Impact Day committee and started to plan their next 1908 Playground Project. The project focuses on enriching play spaces, community centers and small parks to allow children to engage in outdoor play and exercise. Their goal was to complete three playground restorations, but Akilah felt they could do more – so they bumped the number to four.
When it was time to decide on which playgrounds they would beautify, Akilah knew exactly who could help connect her with the areas of most need: United Way of Central Indiana. As a member of United Way groups Women United and Diversity Leadership Circle, all Akilah had to do was pick up the phone and call Janine Roberston, who manages the two groups. Akilah explained the project to Janine, who then connected Akilah to Anne Gabbert, early childhood program manager at United Way.
Anne quickly connected Akilah to Gail Wolfe, the preschool director of Lynhurst Baptist Church Preschool. “I completely trusted United Way to guide me in the right direction. I met Gail and saw the great need and learned about the path she saw for the organization,” Akilah says. Gail explained the congregation couldn’t use much of their playground because it didn’t meet certain code requirements and as an older congregation, they didn’t have the manpower to make the necessary updates.
“I wouldn’t want the congregation to have to do it. It is an underserved community and we just knew we could have the greatest impact with that playground,” Akilah says. After discussing about the school and the needs of the playground for nearly two hours, Akilah had made up her mind. “I decided that would be one of the playgrounds we beautified; the connection to the community was there and opportunity was there,” she says.
Gail and Akilah worked together to create a very ambitious plan for the playground: spread 85 cubic yards of mulch, pull weeds, build furniture and move some very large logs. Gail was doubtful that they could accomplish it all, but Akilah knew that when the community comes together, great things can be accomplished.
The day of the event, 40 people associated with AKA came together to help restore Lynhurst Baptist Church Preschool’s playground. “It takes a community to effect change,” says Akilah. Together, the group formed an assembly line to accomplish the massive goal of spreading 85 cubic yards of mulch. One group pulled weeds, another oversaw the many wheelbarrows of mulch and the last helped spread the mulch. “It was a systematical process, it was simply amazing!” exclaims Akilah.
As the group worked, a neighbor took notice and saw an opportunity to help. “A neighbor came over and had two front loaders, machines that can scoop mulch and transfer it much more easily. Each load was an equivalent of about 200 or 250 shovels,” Akilah explains. With help from the neighbor, the group finished spreading the mulch, something Gail never could have accomplished with just her congregation. “It was the biggest highlight of the day – he was just a neighbor, not even affiliated with the church. We had to beg him to stop,” Akilah shares with a laugh.
The neighbor wasn’t the only one to offer a helping hand. Once the mulch was done, the group focused on moving some large logs to outline the newly mulched area. As they began to work, the recovery group that was meeting on site offered their assistance. Together, they moved the logs, even as it began to rain. “We didn’t lose people because of the rain, which I thought was extraordinary!” Akilah says.
When the logs were finally in their place, there was just one big task left at hand: move the giant planter box. “Gail was like, ‘no, we need a bunch of guys,’ but eight ladies stepped up and did it! There was a lot of girl power that day,” Akilah shares.
Patricia McGruder, a member of United Way’s Tocqueville Society and an AKA member, was one of the 38 women who helped during the playground project. “My heart was filled with joy as I thought about how the early childhood centers are supported by United Way and how leveraging partnerships within the community assists in advocating to sustain our community. All of this is accomplished through volunteer community engagement,” she shares as she reflects upon the day.
“We got the community involved simply from being out there and present,” states Akilah. “With 38 women out of 40, I think that triggered the community as well as those associations within the church to help us. It created a good sense of community,” Akilah says.
Because of that sense of community, the children at Lynhurst Baptist Church Preschool now have even more opportunities to learn, grow and play. “A playground is where learning truly begins. It’s where they can learn concepts such as inclusion, participation, and imaginative thinking,” Patricia says.
When people come together to serve the community, amazing things can happen. If you’re interested in gathering a group together to help the community, consider hosting a Day of Caring through United Way. You’ll have the opportunity to pick a project that aligns with your interests and passions, while helping an organization in our community that desperately needs it. Sign up here to receive more information on how you can accomplish great things through hosting A Day of Caring.