Youth assist Leadership Jackson County project team with revitalization at Medora park



The Medora town park needed a facelift.

A broken slide, old wooden swings, a lopsided merry-go-round and other old equipment, an unsightly cement block, chipped paint and an unlined basketball court were issues at the park at First and George streets.

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The Leadership Jackson County youth project team of Brian Hamp, Shannon Hunsucker, Makenzie Smith, Jolie Voss and Jill Willey saw potential there and came up with ways to make it a safe, fun place for kids and families.

Like most improvement projects, it was going to take one big thing: Money.

The group made the right contacts with the right people and wound up with $10,909 in donations.

After doing some research online, they realized they needed $9,500 to do what they wanted to do at the park.

They received $250 that the Leadership Jackson County board of directors sets aside for each project team, and a GoFundMe page was established with the goal of raising $500.

“We were really astonished within two days, we already had met that goal of $500,” Smith said.

The donations kept coming in, and the team wound up with $1,159 through the account.

“These are all individuals who care about the park, care about the Medora community, and it was really great to see the comments,” Smith said. “A lot of people mentioned ‘Medora has a special place in my heart’ or if they lived there or grandparents lived there. Even though they may not still be here today, they still wanted to give back to the community.”

The big ask came when the team submitted a $9,500 grant request from the Owen-Carr Township Community Fund through the Community Foundation of Jackson County.

“We showed them that we had support and we had lots of donations already. We were going to make this happen,” Smith said. “To our great surprise and complete gratitude for them, they awarded us the full amount of $9,500. I think all of us initially with that news jumped for joy. We were super ecstatic.”

They then could focus their efforts on getting the park revitalized. The Medora Town Council gave its approval for the group to move forward since it’s on town property, and other support has continued.

Blue River Services, which oversees the Reach for a Star after-school program at Medora Community Schools, had a used playground feature at a facility in Marengo it was willing to donate, so volunteers traveled there to bring the pieces back to Medora to assemble.

Voss said volunteers included Carr Township volunteer firefighters and a town reserve police officer.

“It was pretty cool to see everybody come together and be excited about something as much as we were,” she said. “I think it has been really wonderful to be a part of this project, and for such a small community Medora is, we watched them really come together.”

Youth step up

On Monday, five youth from First Baptist Church and Calvary Baptist Church in Seymour and an adult leader spread 2 tons of mulch around the play feature and swing set, and project team members installed new swings and placed flowers in pots.

Josh Cash said 27 youth from First Baptist Church, Calvary Baptist Church, The Point and Cornerstone Community Church completed projects Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Most were in Seymour, while Cash and his crew traveled out to Medora.

First Baptist youth were supposed to travel to Chattanooga, Tennessee, this summer to do mission projects through Mission Serve. Since the COVID-19 pandemic shut that down, the church decided to include others involved with the local Collide program in some local projects.

“We just partnered up and did it that way so we can make a little bit bigger impact in our community,” Cash said. “We’re just trying to figure out something to keep the kids serving.”

The youth were placed into squads for volunteer work, and they all met back at First Baptist each night for worship.

“It’s just the opportunity to give back, to show God’s love, to care. That’s what we hope they get to do,” Cash said. “A lot of our kids have already been to Mission Serve (events). They already had a taste of that. A lot of the other kids maybe haven’t done bigger work projects. It’s a good thing.”

Ellie DeFriece and Taylee Thompson from Calvary Baptist and Kylei Nichols, J.J. Myers and Dawson Chambers from First Baptist helped Cash in Medora.

“It definitely is self-confidence that I can help someone,” DeFriece said. “It’s also just showing that Christians help other people.”

Thompson said it was nice to do something for kids in another community.

“Letting them see some new equipment, some new playground mulch, maybe that will bring some smiles to their faces,” she said. “I just feel like it brings a lot of happiness to me. It just makes me really happy inside.”

Nichols also said it felt good to help out.

“If some kids don’t have that stuff at home, they can always come here and enjoy that,” she said. “It’s definitely fun when we all get to come together and do something good for the world.”

Work continues

The next projects at the park include sealing and lining the basketball court and including four square and hopscotch; adding new picnic tables, equipment and trash and recycling cans; painting; and putting benches, flowerpots and a Little Free Library around the cement block.

The latter will be turned into a meeting area for kids and families.

“It will be a nice place to sit in the shade and do a little reading while your kids are playing or get your kids involved with reading,” Hamp said.

The painting includes local artist Nick Walden adding a mural to the back of a dugout at the baseball field that faces the park.

“It will be a nice visual for the people coming to the park,” Hamp said.

The revitalization project is expected to be completed Sept. 11 during the Jackson County United Way Day of Caring when volunteers from Schneck Medical Center will assist with the effort. Day of Caring typically occurs in May each year, but the pandemic forced United Way to move it to later in the year.

Another element of the team’s project is creating a leadership program with Medora High School’s FFA chapter as a joint effort with United Way’s Youth United.

“The idea is they are going to assume responsibility for the park,” Hamp said. “The concept is they need to use their leadership skills and work together to form a youth Day of Caring that focuses on the park every year, but we’re also going to encourage them to use their thought process to work at will and make future changes to the park and make it better.”

Willey said she looks forward to the project being completed and then seeing what the local youth come up with to keep it a nice attraction in town.

“We wanted to restore the park as a place that would be used as a cornerstone for the community,” she said. “It wasn’t a place that was used as a hub in the past, so we wanted to revitalize that and make it nicer. When people come into town, they look at it and think ‘Oh my goodness! I would love to come and play here with my kids and family, have community events, things like that.’”

Having moved from Harrison County to Medora eight years ago to join the after-school program staff, Hunsucker said she always knew the town needed something positive. She was happy to apply and be accepted to join the Leadership Jackson County class and then get to help with a project where she lives.

“I was absolutely blessed to be put on the team that I was,” she said. “During our first team meeting, I couldn’t have been more excited when the thought of doing something for Medora was thrown out there. I was doing a little happy dance inside whenever it was brought up as a possibility.”

Hamp came to Jackson County from a larger city, where he said the capacity for giving was great. Being a part of the Medora town park project showed him the capacity is great here, too.

“The heart is far greater than the capacity,” he said. “The individual donations that came through — the mulch, the paint and everything else — it was heart given, not capacity given, and we’re so blessed. If you live here and you grew up here, I just want to let you know that this is a really special place, and this just reminds me of that.”

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