SOUTHSHORE — Let there be music, reading, frolicking and just plain more fun for students centered around some new and innovative outdoor attractions at Gibsonton and Reddick elementary schools.
That was the primary mission of the members and friends of the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce, which came to fruition on Thursday (Aug. 10) as Pre-K through fifth grade children descended upon their respective campuses to begin the first day of their 2017 – 2018 school year.
Thanks to contributions from the community and tons of sweat equity, the students received the surprise of an enlivened environment in their courtyards and other open-air spaces.
Armed with $8,100 in community donations and 100 on-site volunteers, chamber executive director Melanie Rimes led an effort that transformed the grounds at both schools.
The makeover included replacing dead and dying shrubberies with new plants and filling in barren spots with truckloads of sod, shell and mulch.
Dave Rimes, Melanie's husband and carpentry hobbyist, helped create musical gardens at both sites that include artfully-crafted xylophones and an assortment of old pots and pans.
Artistic hands also fashioned reading gardens beneath the branches of two grandfather oaks on both campuses, replete with an array of flowering plants.
The garden at Gibsonton is dedicated with a marker in remembrance of Sherry Kotula, a teacher and media specialist at the school who died in 2014.
What's more, artistically adorned wooden panels were crafted and placed near selected classroom doors throughout the campuses; new picnic tables and benches along with eye-catching overhead umbrellas were added; and several inspirational outdoor banners were hung at or near each school's entryways.
And, if that weren't enough, the teachers' lounge at both schools were furnished with new couches and chairs.
A small stage was built in Gibsonton's dining hall, complete with a stationary vinyl curtain that salutes the town's heritage as a home base for traveling carnival performers.
"They made this school a really colorful and fun place for the kids to come back to and I didn't do anything but supply the water," said Gibsonton principal Cindy Guy.
Reddick principal J. Thomas Roth, who noted he and some of his staff members helped with some of the outside, shared similar thoughts.
"The positivity abounds right now around here," said Roth, adding that the changes brought pizazz to the 10-year-old school. "At our open house the other night before school started, parents said they love what went into this project."
The school's playground area was primarily a dirt field until sod and shell were brought in to make it more aesthetically appealing and user friendly, said Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputy Brooke Melton, who serves as Reddick's school resource officer and contributed monetarily toward the project.
"The kids at this school are so amazing and they deserve better," Melton said. "A lot of these children are sleeping on the floor at home, but they always manage to get to school on time every day."
Nearby Wimauma residents Keith and Michelle Singletary, both retired professors, also made a sizeable financial donation toward Reddick's outdoor renovation endeavor.
"My wife and I learned of some of the needs in the community and we want to be supportive of our migrant workers, especially the children," Keith Singletary said. "In some regards we feel the growth of our nation depends on the education of our kids."
From start to finish the project took 45 days, including 23 full work days that drew almost 100 volunteers.
"This was a great community project that hopefully will inspire others to find out the needs of their local schools and see how they can help," Melanie Rimes said. "We only get one shot at helping our kids succeed before they become adults in our community, so why not try to inspire them with things to help them at school – fun things."
The International Showmen's Association, headquartered in Gibsonton and serving the carnival and outdoor amusement industry, contributed $1,000.
"I and many others in the club grew up in Gibsonton, went to school here and continue to make this community our home," said club president Wesley Burnett. "We want to see the kids there succeed."