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Summer is just around the corner, which means children will be looking for things to do outside.
Lancaster High School senior Holly Ellis may be 17, but she’s never forgotten how much fun a slide can be.
Ellis is making sure that a special group of children have the chance for a little swing set adventure, too.
A member of Girl Scout Troop 3671, sponsored by St. Luke United Methodist Church, Ellis just completed a playground at Family Promise of Lancaster to earn the Girl Scout Gold Award.
“As a youngster, I always enjoyed playing outside in the summertime,” she said. “I just wanted to give them the opportunity to do the same thing.”
The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest award in Girl Scouting.
One of the components is a service project that involves time, leadership, creativity and effort.
Each girl must complete a minimum of 65 hours on the project. The project must fill a specific need in the community. It must also be something that creates change with long-term potential and be something the girl can be passionate about. For Ellis, Family Promise of Lancaster fit that bill.
“We’re a part of it (Family Promise) at church and host some of the families,” she said.
Family Promise of Lancaster is a member of a national network that serves local homeless families with children by providing food, shelter, clothing and counseling. The purpose of the program is to help homeless families get back on their feet.
Families spend nights at local churches within the network on a rotating basis.
Each morning by 6 am., the families return to the program's day center at the corner of Arch and Moore streets, where the children prepare for school. Their parents then head to work or school for job training.
Some of them stay at the day center to search for housing and jobs, if not employed, and the younger children spend the day there, too. The supervised playground keeps these younger children busy while their parents look for jobs.
“What’s really nice is to look into the kid’s eyes and see how much they enjoy it already,” said Mike Montgomery, Family Promise executive director. “We have a transitional home next door and when one of the little fellas sees the playground, he takes off running and yelling ‘play, play, play.’”
A total project
Ellis did more than physically build a playground.
She had to start from scratch and laid the groundwork in May 2010 by getting the project approved by a Girl Scouts review committee.
Between school, LearnTV, AP classes, Girl Scouts, church, church league basketball and the playground, Ellis has been busy in the last few months.
“The one thing I’ve really enjoyed about Girl Scouts is making friends that I wouldn’t have without it,” she said. “With so much stuff going on, it does get harder as you get older, but we stick together and encourage each other to stick with it.
“It has been a real challenge, but it is possible,” Ellis said.
She had a few extra hoops to jump through since the project needed the endorsement of Family Promise, too.
Dr. Deborah Cureton, a former Girl Scout, is a member of the local Family Promise Board. Cureton said that Ellis’ unique service project was not only giving back to the community, but love and compassion in action as well.
“It’s just awesome to see a young woman take on something of this scope and then following through with it,” Cureton said. “Girl Scouts is all about empowering young women to step up and take an active role in the community.
“Holly certainly did that.”
After getting everything approved, Ellis had to raise the money for materials, including about $1,100 for the swing set, as well as a vinyl privacy fence, gravel, landscaping, paint and safety improvements.
The estimated price tag of the total project was about $5,000. Ellis raised the funds through a yard sale, working at Belk department store, a Duke Energy Sweat Equity Grant and Young People in Charge. Family Promise also chipped in $500.
“Oh yeah,” Montgomery said. “For us, this was definitely a good investment.”
Ellis said J&S Concrete donated the gravel, which reduced the cost to about $3,000.
She was able to get friends, family, the St. Luke United Methodist youth group and the Lancaster High School Civinettes to provide the labor, which was done on Saturdays in February and March.
“I was there one of those Saturdays and seeing how Holly had inspired others to help was just amazing,” Cureton said. “It was special to watch all of them working together to get it all done.”
Ellis also had to keep detailed notes and make a scrapbook of the project for the award.
“Probably the hardest part was getting everyone and everything there when it was needed,” she said. “I’ve worked with the Salkehatchie Summer Service camps the past two summers. That was a big help to keep things organized.”
Stacey Kirkley, LHS Civinettes advisor, said the playground project exposed the high school girls to Family Promise's mission.
“Some of them knew about the organization, but didn’t know what it did,” Kirkley said. “One of our goals is to encourage the girls to get involved in this community. They have to learn to put themselves on the back burner. Holly has become a great example for all of us to follow.”
The playground is now finished, except for some flower beds.
“I plan on doing that at the end of the month,” Ellis said.