September 2018
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: The Incredible Journey

 

The Pickens County 4-H Educational Center

One volunteer’s vision inspires a community to pitch in and transform a neglected old house into the Pickens County 4-H Educational Center.

The old house had been forgotten for years. Its only occupants were a family of opossums. Each day, as Amanda Newman drove by, something tugged at her heart. A longtime 4-H volunteer, Newman had dreamed of having just one room to hold her 4-H meetings, one room so that she could have a permanent place for her materials. As she passed one day, she felt God lay it on her heart to ask about the old house. She prayed for guidance and approached a Gordo Community area development board member. A few weeks later, her prayers were answered: Her request to use the old house had been granted. Amazingly, one volunteer’s desire would ultimately take the children of Pickens County on an incredible journey, a journey that would bring them home and change their lives forever.

Newman knew her 4-H kids would take ownership of the old place and fix it up. She had no doubt they would rise to this challenge. And that’s just what they did! Beginning with a can of paint and lots of determination, the children went to work. When they did, helpers from all over Pickens County showed up. Even the Fellows Program from the University of Alabama volunteered to be extra hands in the project.

Amanda Newman teaches poultry at the Pickens County 4-H Educational Center. Newman volunteers over 40 hours a week for  the children of Pickens County.

 

 

   

Each day, the interior of the house changed dramatically. With two kitchens, one found new life as an art and gardening area, while the other gained a new face, with commercial equipment purchased from an RC&D grant and other donations. The helpers created areas for yoga, sewing, poultry, livestock and even an AR (Accelerated Reading) Library.

The 4-H members did much more than simply paint and clean the inside, however. The Green Thumb Club (Gardening) landscaped the outside, planting raised-bed community and herb gardens. After a former Reform resident stopped by the home, he donated mulch and supplies for the new beds. He also petitioned his "Class of ‘68" friends to give tools and plants. PECO, a local business, supplied pavers and shrubbery for landscaping. Community flower lovers shared prized annuals and perennials for container gardens. As his project, one Eagle Scout constructed a greenhouse out of old windows found on the property.

Whenever there was a need, there was also an outpouring of community support. Funds arrived to purchase materials for the poultry, horse and livestock clubs. Sewing machines appeared, donated by community members and the Extension Office.

"We were fortunate to have so many outstanding volunteers donate their time, talents, and quite frankly, their financial resources to support this important educational program," stated Patti Fuller, Pickens County Extension Coordinator.

The youth found creative ways to both upcycle and recycle. For example, the cooking club encouraged healthy eating by canning and preserving foods grown right on the property. Members harvested cucumbers to make both sweet and dill pickles, using dill from their herb garden. They made pesto with their basil, coriander from their cilantro seeds and rubs from other dried herbs. Children dried sage and made gift packets to give to each customer who makes a purchase at their annual sweet potato sale in the fall. When a generous donation of blueberries arrived, they made jams and jellies.

 

Yoga classes are popular with 4-H students. The classes meet both inside and outside.

Other areas suddenly took on new life, as well. The art room attracted many local artists, who donated their time. One potter even brought his kiln for 4-H members to use. The AR Library grew beyond any expectations with students and community members donating books. Many parents reported that AR points increased after the library opened.

The Leadership and Green Thumb Clubs provided upkeep and maintained the gardens during summer months. The gardens thrived, giving students many hands-on opportunities to share vegetables with shut-ins, senior citizens and anyone else that had a need.

To show the Gordo community their appreciation, 4-H’ers and their parents joined together on National 4-H Day of Service to spruce up the downtown area. They cleaned windows, swept sidewalks, and redid flowerbeds at the Senior Center. Many people spotted the group working and joined in with rakes and blowers.

Every town in Pickens County is now represented in the after-school programs, and the old house has become a beloved community home, proudly bearing the name "4-H Educational Center" with eleven 4-H clubs meeting inside. Rarely does Newman arrive for work that she does not find "blessings" on the porch, blessings like paper towels, material for sewing, AR books or many other goodies.

Chloe Abernathy and Allibess Dyer work on a community raised garden. When the vegetables were harvested, they were given to shut-ins and senior citizens.

 

All of this started with one volunteer, who simply wanted to help children. Her idea sparked a restoration that changed a community.

"Amanda Newman has a heart for youth," stated Chelsey Gann, 4-H Foundation Regional Extension Agent. "We are a 4-H team, and we work together to create great opportunities for our children. She is the best volunteer in the state!"

Newman takes no credit for her hard work. Instead, she is already thinking of other ways the home might be used for children.

"The kids and the people of Pickens County have far surpassed my expectations," Newman said. "This has been an incredible journey, but we are not finished! "

By joining hands to help children, one community transformed a neglected old house into a home, alive with the voices of heart-happy children, laughing, learning, and living life. In so doing, they found a community hub where they can come together to improve life for all.

 

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..