Guest post by Wendy Hawkins and Don Lendle
On a beautiful Thursday morning, November 12, 2015, Forsyth Audubon volunteers, Habitat for Humanity staff, and Junior ROTC students convened on the Habitat for Humanity campus, poised to install reinforcements along “de fence” line in preparation for “A.M.-bush” planting (that is, 70 native, bird-friendly shrubs and trees). This border surrounds Habitat Forsyth’s campus at 14th and N. Cherry Streets in Winston-Salem – including the new lodging that is currently under construction. This building will house up to 40 volunteers at a time who sign up to help with Habitat construction projects throughout the year.
Calling in the Troops: For Thursday’s massive planting task, the unarmed forces were called in. “Fall in! Ten-hut! Forward march! Hut-2-3-4! Company halt!” There before us at 09:30 hours stood 40 Junior ROTC students ready to receive instruction. The cadets from Mt. Tabor High School were accompanied by their Army Instructor, Master Sergeant Maurice Kearney. Kelly Mitter, Habitat Director of Operations, welcomed the group. Don Lendle, Forsyth Audubon conservation chair, briefed the young battalion on the value of native plants and their importance to birds, as well as techniques for conquering the clay soil, using compost, and loosening root bound plants.
Soon armed with shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows, gloves, pick axes, and yardsticks, they were off in orderly fashion, marching rank on rank toward the border to be conquered. Organizing themselves into subdivisions (one group per plant), the JROTC focused attention to excavating holes, measuring, and installing the plants – receptive as they were guided by the FA and Habitat experts.
The Big Picture: Providing additional insight and educational inspiration, Wendy Hawkins, our FA education chair, passed around copies of a fun, informative quiz directly related to the plants being installed that day. The students learned about scientific names, the difference between evergreen and deciduous, as well as how these plants would directly benefit birds (and, in turn, people). “Feel free to share answers!” she encouraged, announcing that there was also a mysterious answer sheet floating around. Fielding various questions about birds and plants, she discovered that many of these young people were excited about sharing their experiences with birds and plants at the break table. These take-home tools would prove useful for the written reports of their experience they would later submit to their superiors.
The Victory: Friendly competition ensued as some raced with wheelbarrows of compost which could hardly be filled fast enough by those shoveling. Additionally, their intelligent conversations encompassed current events from police brutality (or not), to the definition of manslaughter, to the passionate attitude one should have toward their career choice. Who would have thought all these issues could be debated and resolved atop a compost pile! The intelligence and cooperation of these youth were inspiring. Now they have come away from this experience with their minds stretched just a little more by this exercise in conservation. By 14:30 hours, all plants had been installed according to proper specs, watered, and mulched and looked beautiful. Everyone had a good time and good work was done. The students were reorganized on the bus and waved enthusiastically as they drove off into the “wild blue yonder” toward their next mission!
The Volunteers: Janice Lewis and Susan Andrews created the landscape design and Janice supervised the plant installation. Audubon members Jesse Anderson, Mary Franklin Blackburn, Jean Chamberlain, Nita Colvin, Carol Gearhart, Wendy Hawkins, Sheilah Lombardo, Sharon Olson, and Anne Stupka wielded shovels and provided encouragement and instructions on planting day. In addition, Don Lendle, as project manager, coordinated the landscaping project with HfH. Bill and Betty Gray Davis and Kim Brand contributed to the design and plant selection. Jane McCleary at Piedmont Carolina Nursery provided invaluable assistance in procuring plants.
The FA alliance with Habitat for Humanity: The conversation between Forsyth Audubon and Habitat for Humanity began in December 2012. Kim Brand, then Forsyth Audubon Vice President, immediately saw that it was a perfect match to merge bird habitat with human habitat. The Little Greens Garden Club made a $500 grant to Habitat for Humanity for the first bird-friendly yard, and Kim led FA’s involvement in that project. In 2013, Kim received a $10,000 Toyota TogetherGreen fellowship grant to continue the project with six more bird-friendly yards for first-time homeowners who were offered the option of a native landscape design to attract birds and butterflies.
Today, Kim works full-time for Audubon NC where she is the Bird-Friendly Communities Coordinator for the statewide effort. Forsyth Audubon continues to provide financial support and volunteers for our collaboration with Habitat for Humanity. Efforts are currently concentrated on the Boston-Thurmond area of Winston-Salem just north of downtown, focal neighborhood for Habitat’s revitalization initiative. This project will continue in the spring, developing the Habitat campus into a wildlife oasis and helping to revitalize one of our own urban neighborhoods for birds and people.
Photo Credits: Jean Chamberlain and Don Lendle