If you look up the words “selfless act of giving,” you might just also find the images of the girls from Junior Girl Scout Troop 11346.
The 11 elementary school girls took it upon themselves to not only clean up the Rae Allen nature center and part of a walking trail behind Rosemont Elementary School, but replace old, broken, moldy items, and create new memories too. The project wasn’t just for them to enjoy, instead it was chosen to honor their favorite fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Jennifer Daniel.
“We love our teacher…. because she’s done a lot for us this year,” said 11 year old Morgan Wreyford.
“A service project is helping our community,” said Chloe Thames. “Our community is our school. We’ve all gone here since pre-k. We wanted to restore something that was meant to be fixed.”
“That meant a lot to everyone,” added 11 year old Anna Barintine.
The girls worked hard, dedicating almost two months to planning, cleaning, rebuilding, and creating items for the trail, which also served as an outdoor classroom. The girls said the nature center and surrounding area was overgrown with weeds and leaves and littered with trash. Many of the wooden benches were rotting, signs along the trail were covered with dirt and mold, and the pond was filled with dirty water. The girls cleaned and replaced all those items, plus built and painted bird houses, put in new stepping stones and a bird bath, and added stones and pebbles around the pond.
“My favorite part was digging stepping stones,” explained 11 year old Natalie Figiel. “Anna and I dug three step stones. We pulled weeds out and put the stones in.”
“I think now that we’ve cleaned it up, more people will use it,” added her twin sister, 11-year-old Samantha Figiel.
Troop Leader, Stephanie Thames said the Home Depot in LaGrange donated many items like bird houses, paint, and tools to help the girls finish their project.
“I was overwhelmed,” said Thames. “It [the nature center] was over-run. There were lots of projects. But these are very ambitious girls. We came out and took pictures. They came up with a list of priorities: to fix the arbor and pond. They were very adamant about having a dedication area.”
The area, near the new birdbath, is now adorned with a plaque. Something the girls wanted to leave behind for their favorite teacher. They said she was their motivation for choosing the project. On Monday, the girls unveiled the clean up project and dedication plaque to Mrs. Daniel for the first time. She was immediately overcome with emotion.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she said.” For them [the girls] to be this generous with their time and love…. this isn’t just my parents garden, it’s mine too. I love it. I’m so very touched…. thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she told the girls. “This is the best gift I’ve ever had. It’s from the heart and means so much. It’s one of the kindest things.”
The trail and nature center was constructed 15 years ago by Mrs. Daniel’s parents, Ray and Mary Helen Lindsay, plus folks with the PTO at Rosemont Elementary School. According to Daniel, “if it bloomed” her mom planted it. Much like the girls, Daniel’s parents, who were environmentalists, thought the property was too overgrown and decided to clean it. Part of the area they named the “Rae Allen Nature Center” after the child of a teacher at Rosemont who passed away. Daniel said members of her family, including her parents, had attended Rosemont Elementary School for 79 years in a row.
“I’ll bring my mother here [to the nature center],” Daniel said. “She suffers from dementia…she won’t realize it, but she’ll enjoy it. She’ll know she’s outside in the breeze.”
The project also earned Troop 11346 the Bronze Award, the highest honor given to Junior Girl Scouts. They’ll receive the award during a special banquet on June 2nd.
But sadly, some of the girls will say goodbye to Mrs. Daniel this week. They’ll be moving on to different middle schools around the county. But Daniel said the girls have left behind a lasting legacy.
“They and the trail won’t be forgotten,” she said. “It will move forward for generations. It’s here for the children to enjoy.”