Scouts and several community organizations came together Saturday, Aug. 27, to help Eli Lopez build his Eagle Scout project.
One local scout is tackling food insecurity and mental health for his Eagle project.
Eli Lopez, a member of Troop 145, at Oakland Presbyterian Church, spent his Saturday at Lakeview Middle School — alongside about 30 fellow scouts and community partners — creating a butterfly garden, vegetable and herb garden, and counseling space for students.
Eli Lopez’s project was a yearlong effort with Scouts BSA, the Bloom & Grow Garden Society and the S.A.F.E. coordinator and mental health counselor at Lakeview.
Jackie Ihnenfeld, assistant principal, is thrilled with the education garden project.
“I think it’s one of the best things that’s happened at the school in a long time in terms of community involvement,” she said. “I’m just overwhelmed with the way the community has rallied behind this to make this happen for our school. … Everyone has had a role in making this come together.”
The project is being built in a barely used space between the media center and 500 Building that is steeped like an amphitheater. Volunteers cleared overgrown grass from the steps, weeded the area for the Monarch Waystation to make way for milkweed donated through a University of Kansas grant, pressure-washed a brick memorial walk, placed four garden boxes to be filled with vegetables and herbs, and added two outdoor bench areas for classes to come together.
“I felt it was a good opportunity to help the community,” Eli Lopez said of his project. “The opportunity came to me because we have close ties with the Ihnenfelds. It was just a good opportunity to help the school in a lot of ways. … They said it would help a lot of students as a mental health area.”
Prior to Saturday, Eli Lopez spent several weekends at the home of his scoutmaster, Todd Shaw, milling the wood and building the four garden boxes with wood and metal sheeting. Each box measures four by five feet and is filled with eight inches of fill dirt and six inches of potting soil.
“When we arrived at the location on Saturday, there were a few garden beds already there that had been used previously but had been abandoned, so we moved those out,” Eli Lopez said. “We installed the four raised beds we had built on another day. We pressure washed the brick memorial. … For the benches, that was a joint project with the (Winter Garden) Masonic Lodge. They constructed those and put those by the monument, and finally we tore up grass on an unused outdoor amphitheater to prepare the soil for what the school is going to do. They are going to create a Monarch Waystation.”
“I’m pretty impressed with how he was able to go from vision to execution,” said his mother, Nasly Lopez. “It’s a lot of different steps to do, and he’s really busy as a student … so to be able to manage his time was pretty remarkable. … I think it turned out beautiful.”
She was in charge of feeding the volunteers on workdays and her husband, Frank Lopez, assisted in the labor portion of the project.
Eli Lopez set up a GoFundMe account and solicited donations from local organizations. Bray Ace Hardware donated all the soil, hardware and small tools. Bloom & Grow contributed a variety of plants to get the garden started.
The Winter Garden Masonic Lodge donated picnic tables that can be used for an outdoor classroom. One will be dedicated to the late Steve Czerniejewski, a mason who died in April and was active in the lodge’s Adopt-a-School program.
The scout estimates he spent 17 hours on the project, and while his portion of the onsite work is done, there is more to do.
Eli Lopez said his project does not include any planting.
“The idea of the area was to allow the school to do that on their own because it’s going to be used for an outdoor learning area, so it would be for the students to do the actual planting.”
“It’s going to be turned into an educational space,” Ihnenfeld said. “The intent is to be an SEL —
Social-Emotional Learning space. It’s a way to bring in other things other than academics but to address social-emotional feelings in our students. The pandemic did our students in. …
When we came back, we realized our regular counseling approach wasn’t quite cutting it. We have an amazing S.A.F.E. coordinator, Yolanda Drislane, and mental health counselor, Kelsie Fitzgerald-Hoyt.”
Ihnenfeld said the space is next to the school’s SEL suite, which has a cool-down space, counseling office and food pantry. Drislane and Fitzgerald-Hoyt will be able to talk one-on-one about issues with students while they tend to the garden and attempt to ground themselves.
The space also has a memorial area for former student Michael Canaveral, who died in 2009.
“We spruced up the memorial area, put butterfly-friendly plants around it, a gardenia tree in the middle by the plaque,” Ihnenfeld said.
She said vegetables such as squash, zucchini and beans will be planted in the raised beds, as will a variety of fruit, and one bed will be dedicated to herbs that can be transplanted to the butterfly garden.
“(Fitzgerald-Hoyt and Drislane) want to plant lavender to redirect (the students’) minds when they are stressed,” she said. “The idea is for anyone who needs a minute to take a few deep breaths in an open space. … It’s going to be available for staff and students.”
The plan is for a couple of the student organizations to maintain the garden. Ihnenfeld said she would love to start a garden club at Lakeview.
A REWARDING PROJECT
The project cost was about $2,400, Eli Lopez said. He raised $1,600 on GoFundMe and had a few individual donations, so most of his project was covered financially.
“It was very rewarding,” he said. “It was nice to see it come together. It started as two beams of wood that we were able to turn into four nice boxes, so I’m very happy about that.”
Although the construction is finished, the scout has to complete his report plus a few final merit badges before attending his Eagle board review.
Eli Lopez is a junior at West Orange High School and a Winter Garden resident.
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