by Kate Dugger–
Rives, Tennessee, is like many small rural towns. The population at last count was 314, and they all know each other. The town consists of a volunteer fire department which doubles as a polling station during elections, a post office, a city hall, three railroad crossings (at which I am perpetually stuck), and a park.
The park has been there longer than most people remember. It has been the venue for birthday parties, family reunions, tee-ball games, softball tournaments, friendly games of one-on-one, and a place for local kids to hang out on summer afternoons. But despite all of its use and love, it had seen better days. The teeter-totters were rusted out. The jungle gym’s paint had faded, and, by some accounts, the merry-go-round had been in the park since the age of dinosaurs.
Warped and jagged bleachers overlooked dugouts that had been defaced with obscene graffiti. The park was crying out for a complete makeover.
Tim Sims, an employee of Lowe’s Home Center, was going to see that the park got the makeover it deserved. Sims is part of a community out-reach program called Lowe’s Heroes, sponsored by the company. Lowe’s Heroes was started more than a decade ago as a way to improve local communities. Individual stores have teams, and the teams choose the projects. Each project must be approved by the corporate office, and a budget of
$2,500 is granted to each. The team then gets to work. These teams have completed projects across the U.S and Canada. With the recent opening of stores in Mexico, projects have been started there as well.
Sims suggested making the Rives park a focus for the project when he noticed the obscene language on the dugouts. His six-year-old niece plays ball there with many other kids, none of which should be exposed to such things. The team of volunteers agreed that this was a cause worthy of their time. Saturday, September 17, was the official start date. A team of about fourteen volunteers put in eight to twelve hours of their time that day. The project was supposed to wrap up the next day, but Rives finally got some rain, and the work had to be put on hold. The team was back at it Sunday, September 25.
“It makes us feel good to help,” said Joanne Duckworth, as she painted one of the picnic tables under the pavilion. Noises of agreement rose up from the other volunteers who had been there since 7 a.m.
The community is invited to help Lowe’s volunteers during these projects. Sherry Koon, not a Lowe’s employee, was one such volunteer “What else would I be doing? Just sleeping,” she said.
Some of the most visible updates at the park are at the basketball court. The goal posts are being painted a vibrant red. The blacktop is being redone, and new lines will painted on the court once it has dried.
Painting the goal posts was where I found Tony Mosley. “We are just people helping people. And it is always nice to be a part of something bigger.” Mosley, who has helped on past projects, missed last year’s event due to medical issues. So when the time came, he was more than ready to get started on this one.
Dallas Gurley, who was painting in the dugout, works for Lowe’s. He is also a student at UTM who has a more personal connection to the park. “I played ball here when I was little. So it’s a childhood memory. I’ve watched this place go downhill since then, and I was really pumped about it being our project this year.” The fact that it will benefit local kids most of all is extremely gratifying to Gurley who feels she has a special calling to work with children. When she completes her education she will pursue a career as a pediatric occupational therapist.
Other improvements to the park include painting the jungle gym, teeter-totters, dugouts, and swings. The wood on the bleachers and the merry-go-round will be replaced and painted. Also, volunteers will mulch the play areas to make it safer for kids to play.
More than one volunteer said they choose projects that don’t receive government funding. Sims expressed a hope that people will see the Lowe’s Heroes as individuals and not just part of a big corporation. While the corporation does fund the projects, it is still a core of local folks who take up the mantle of making the local communities a better place through their hard work and sweat.