By Charlotte Kugler '14
As a Massachusetts Promise Fellow devoting a year to community service, Stacey Funston ’11 focuses on easing and improving the transition between middle and high school for students in Holyoke. Soon after taking on her duties, she discovered Holyoke parents and other community members had been talking about restoring a path running between Peck Middle School and Holyoke High School. Funston immediately found symbolism in the idea.
“In many ways this path is the physical transition from Peck to the high school,” she says. “Middle school and high school students meet on the dingle every day. It is also one of the most direct paths between the lower part of Holyoke and the upper part.”
However, even though the path is used constantly, Funston says it has been in desperate need of improvements for a long time–so she organized a day of service on April 21 to tackle many of the problems affecting the path. Sixty-six volunteers came to help, including a large number of students, families, and school staff and faculty.
Before the project was completed, the walking surface was a rocky, unstable material that was often slippery and dangerous. One side of the path dropped off due to erosion, making it unsafe. There were dead trees, branches, and brush all around the path, which allowed some students to hide on their way to school to skip class, as well as litter and graffiti.
“As a path that is used so much by the community, it deserves to be well maintained, respected, and made into a beautiful space,” says Funston. “My goal was to help students, families, city and school officials, and community partners to come together to reclaim this space.”
After discussing the needed improvements with employees of the city's maintenance and parks and recreation departments, along with a landscaper, she decided they should first address the major drainage problems affecting the path. All the water from Peck School property had been washing down over the path and wasn't being effectively drained. This caused major erosion and an unsafe, unhealthy overflow of polluted water.
Maintenance diverted the water to disperse it into the undergrowth around the path, where it could be effectively absorbed. They reshaped the path to make it less steep and cut down dead trees and branches; they'll also be installing a new light for the path.
“With the improvement in water drainage, we were able to make many more changes to the path,” Funston says. “On the day of service, we picked up trash and cleared away brush and branches to make way for new plants. We also created wish flags that represented our wishes for the new dingle and strung them along the path.”
Funston’s personal hope was that this day of service would be an opportunity for students and families of Peck and Holyoke High School to come together and share the responsibility of reclaiming this space.
“The desired end result was accomplished--a path that our community will be proud to walk every day to school or to work,” she says. “In organizing this project, I witnessed the amazing power of bringing together members of a community for a common goal.”
The work to reclaim the dingle is not yet over, though. Volunteers gathered again May 5, and there will be a workshop at the Peck Middle School to make signs to identify the trees and plants around the path, enabling the schools to use the path as a place to learn about their local environment. Additionally, the many students, families, and community members who volunteered on the day of service are committed to maintaining the path, and they're excited about continuing improvements in the future.
Says Funston, “Being in the fellowship program and training for a profession in the nonprofit sector has solidified my belief that community service doesn’t have to be something you just do on the side. It can be inseparable from the work you do every day.”