Reflecting on the Dunbar School Project

By Mercy Klein, Preserve WV AmeriCorps

Mercy and sign

Mercy Klein at Dunbar High School in Fairmont

November 2015  About a year before I became an AmeriCorps member, I was introduced to the Dunbar School while I was volunteering as a community member with Lynn Stasick, PAWV’s Field Representative.  She was conducting an AmeriCorps training at the school on how to perform historic site evaluations and Prioritized Needs Assessments.  Fortunately, I decided to tag along that day as an interested observer.  Who would have known that a year later I would become an official AmeriCorps member whose first big project was to organize a Day to Serve Civic Service Project at the Dunbar School!

When I think back to that day of my first visit to Dunbar School, one of the things that made an impression on me was listening to Houston Richards and Charlotte Meade (members of the Dunbar School Foundation) speak about what the Dunbar School meant to them.  They spoke of the memorable times and the friendships that developed during their attendance there as students.  By the tone of their voices, I could really feel just how important it was for them to preserve this school and thus their memories of their time there.

August 29, 2016   Preserve WV AmeriCorps Orientation Day, my first day as an AmeriCorps member.  I was informed by the PAWV staff that I would be planning and organizing a service project to scrape and paint hallways at the Dunbar School for possibly up to 100 volunteers for October 10th.  I had six weeks to prepare.  I immediately felt a little panicked.  I had never organized anything more than dinner reservations for six people.  Despite my anxiety, I coolly responded with a cheerful “ok!” and no one was the wiser.

My first week was spent orienting myself to the duties of my service year as a new AmeriCorps member with PAWV.  This included a mass of forwarded emails to get me up to speed on endangered property sites as well as guidance from PAWV staff and board president on preparing and planning for my first service project.  Despite feeling slightly overwhelmed, as one typically does when starting anything new, I resolved to step out of my comfort zone and to remember that this was an opportunity to try a new and different career while gaining valuable experience.

The following weeks were a whirlwind of applying for grants and donation, “visualizing” my project day from beginning to end; sticking post-its to my home office walls of each project step while arranging them and rearranging them; emailing AmeriCorps members; meeting with WVU Center for Service and Learning to recruit volunteers; writing and sending out media and press releases; assessing supply and tool needs and shopping for them; figuring out the who, what, when, and how much for lunch, and finally, putting together a detailed itinerary for the project day.

October 10th   My project day arrives.  Nervous as heck, we pull up to Dunbar School at 8:45am –15 minutes later than I wanted.  Determined not to let my slight tardiness undermine my big project day, with the help of my fellow AmeriCorps members Edward and Joe, and PAWV staff Kelli & Lynn, we swiftly set up our check-in table and activity staging area for tools and supplies, rearranged chairs and tables, and set up the snack and beverage stations.  And to my surprise, we did it so quickly and efficiently that I had 30 minutes to spare before our official 9:30a.m. check-in time.  My 15 minutes tardiness was soon forgotten and I knew this would be a good day.

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A good day it most certainly was.  While we did come close to the target goal of 100 volunteers, 38 volunteers was still pretty sizeable.  According to PAWV staff, so far this has been the largest volunteer turn out for a PAWV organized volunteer project.  I feel pretty happy about that.  We had members from three AmeriCorps programs –Preserve WV, AFHA, and LifeBridge.  In addition, there were a total of 14 community members who participated in the project, including three former Dunbar School students, the city planner and manager for the City of Fairmont.  WBOY, the local news station and two newspapers –the Times West Virginian and the Dominion Post– were present as well.

The project proved to be very successful with the volunteers accomplishing a great deal.  Volunteers served diligently from start to finish.  Deteriorating paint was scraped from the main floor hallway and the entire rear stairwell, one coat of paint was applied to approximately 1/4th of the main floor hallway, and the gymnasium floor was cleaned of all the fire extinguisher chemical residue.  All the volunteers moved quickly and efficiently through the project’s final phase of site and tool cleanup, and everyone was packed and leaving the project site by 4pm.

One of the highlights of the day, for me, was when Dana, the Communications Director with Volunteer West Virginia, commented on how impressed she was at the sight of all the volunteers vigorously scraping paint and pushing brooms “like a little army.”   I agree, it was very impressive seeing everyone all geared up in painters’ coveralls, goggles, and face masks, hearing all the paint scrapers against the walls, and seeing so many volunteers enshrouded in a cloud of dust as they busied their brooms.  It was in that moment that I felt very proud of all that we had accomplished.

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