BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — When asked what components are needed to be successful in both community outreach and community-based project development, Lyord Watson Jr., one of the founding members of the Birmingham Change Fund and President Owner of Watson Philanthropic Solutions, responds by saying:
It all starts with a good idea, that turns into a good plan.
Watson Philanthropic Solutions has collaborated with Glen Iris Elementary School, located on the Southside of Birmingham, to develop an outdoor educational environment — a glimpse of which is available online through this four minute video featuring students and a three-dimensional walking tour.
The garden will be a place where children can learn about Alabama’s natural resources including wildlife and their habitats as well as the importance of conservation. The approach incorporates hands-on, inquiry-based activities “is the first of its kind in the Birmingham School System, in terms of being incorporated into the curriculum of the actual school,” says Watson.
√ Good idea? Check.
√ Good plan? Check.
Community members promoted the idea for the community garden by approaching the school principal and others to build their base of support. Much of the garden’s fundraising success can be attributed to the principal and parents. While there have been several large donations from wealthy individuals, a significant proportion of financial support for the garden is coming in the form of $20-$50 contributions from families within the community.
Yet, community involvement is a process that does not begin and end with financial support. Keeping the community informed and involved throughout project planning and implementation is essential.
“You still need to let people know what is going on,” Watson states. “That was really the biggest thing that came out of it, is that we really had people knowing what was going on.”
√ Community support and involvement? Check.
To this strong set of ingredients, add a highly-respected leader in the community, who works hard and is passionate. Enter Michael Wilson — the principal of Birmingham’s Glen Iris Elementary School. Principal Wilson promised to camp out on the school rooftop for 27 hours in an effort to raise $20,000 for the outdoor school garden. Despite temperatures that soared to 95 degrees at some points, Wilson made good on his promise. He descended just one hour prior to his deadline, after learning that nearly $22,000 had been raised within 26 hours.
√ A leader that is passionate about their community? Check.
The “Save Principal Wilson” event had a snowball effect attracting more energy and ideas. What began as an idea of spending a night on the roof to raise money and awareness for the project sparked numerous other ideas: to sell produce … which sparked an idea for a community garage sale, and on and on, until it truly became “a community affair.” Those involved with the school garden project recognize the importance of building momentum, and capitalizing on early successes.
In fact, Glen Iris and multiple community partners continue to build momentum to reach their goal: to fully fund the school community garden in order to complete construction during summer 2012.
The team hopes to raise an additional $95,000-120,000 to fulfill this promise. You can support the Glen Iris outdoor classroom project, which will be greatly appreciated, by making a monetary or an in-kind donation of materials and/or labor.