Service Dawgs give back to community

August 17, 2011 12:19:00 PM

David Miller -


Volunteerism continues to spread throughout the area. 


Through the Mississippi State University program 2011 Service Dawgs, more than 300 students fanned out Tuesday to 23 different sites in the Golden Triangle to donate time and service to local organizations.  


For Starkville School District''s GoPlay initiative, this year''s designated volunteer date came at the perfect time.  


GoPlay, which was established in 2009, is an initiative that integrates community resources and volunteers to create playful living and learning opportunities outside the classroom. 


At Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary, the initiative includes a raised bed garden, which contains tomatoes, pole beans, basil, eggplant, cucumbers, squash and herbs, that started showing the effects of the summer heat. MSU students watered the vegetable garden, painted flower beds and planted flowers around the campus playground. 


MSU students worked at Henderson Ward Stewart from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 


"I think this is great," said MSU senior engineering major Matthew Cook. "The kids deserve a lot of this out here. They look like they''re having fun." 


Heather Carson, a parent volunteer who helped start GoPlay, was excited to see volunteer work continue to aid the initiative. Volunteerism was the genesis of GoPlay, as parents, school officials and local businesses joined forces to create a healthy and positive environment for local public schools.  


"It''s great role modeling," Carson said. "When the kids are walking by to go their classes and they see students from MSU just working and giving service, it inspires them and shares the feeling that the community cares about the Starkville School District. For us, that''s really special." 


The raised garden at Henderson Ward Stewart was used during the "Fun on the Hill" program this summer. The program taught kids basic container gardening elements, like seed planting and picking produce. The kids also had a nutrition class and ate the fruits and vegetables they harvested.  


During the school year, GoPlay organizers hope to have Henderson Ward Stewart students maintain the garden and plant vegetables for the winter season.  


The volunteer at the forefront of the garden projects at Henderson Ward Stewart and Sudduth Elementary is Sam McLemore, whose wife, Isabel, teaches kindergarten at Sudduth. 


"Just exposing the kids to plants and gardening, something outdoors, you have to give a little love and care to, is a really good thing," McLemore said. "I never had anything like this growing up, and I''m sure it is a little bit of a shock to the MSU students to see a garden on campus." 


The playground at Henderson Ward Stewart will soon debut a new outdoor classroom pavilion, Carson said. Concrete work started in July and roof work will start this weekend. The pavilion will also provide shade during recess. 


The SSD PTA raised $20,000 through the sale of chocolate bars to fund the construction of the pavilion.  


"The idea is that we take learning outside," Carson said. "We want the kids to know you can learn anywhere and have fun. The momentum is continuing from community members and business partners that care about Starkville schools."