Special to MDJ
The idea was born when A.J. Durkee, a fifth-grader at Mt. Bethel Elementary and a Boy Scout in Troop 797, wanted to do something to help others in our community. After remembering some of the stories shared by his mother, Donna, of the children at Norton Park Elementary School in Smyrna, he knew what he wanted to do. There was a courtyard at the school that would be a great place to build raised garden beds for the special-needs classes to enjoy and use.
A.J. and his brother, Cole, a Cub Scout in Pack 797, set a goal of raising $1,000. They worked together to make a plan, and every contributor received a hand-drawn thank you note signed by the boys. Over the course of a year, they collected and saved their allowance and birthday gifts, and they solicited countless donations from family members, friends and organizations, including Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land.
The project became known as A.J.’s Garden, for which they developed a Facebook page, raising awareness and requesting donations. They met their fundraising goal in February. They immediately set about getting the gardens built and planted.
CoreScapes LLC, a local landscaper, agreed to provide needed materials at cost and the labor to prepare the areas and build the wooden structures for the beds.
On March 10, A.J., Cole and volunteers of Den 8 of Cub Scout Pack 797, all led by his dad, Chris, spent the afternoon bringing A.J.’s idea to life. They built four raised garden beds, one of which is high enough to be accessible to children in wheelchairs. The gardens were filled with plants and vegetables for the children to enjoy viewing out of their classroom windows as well as in the courtyard.
The response from the children at Norton Park Elementary School has been one of pure joy. A.J. and Cole and the members of Pack 797 Den 8 have become known in the school as “Super Scouts” for their contribution to the community.