Shelby County High School, others receive grants from Cawaco RC&D

Published 3:39 pm Wednesday, November 22, 2023

By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

The Cawaco Resource Conservation and Development Council held two separate events on Thursday, Nov. 16 that recognized the award of more than $37,000 in total grant funding and bolstered a variety of projects in the local community.

Cawaco RC&D’s grant announcement day for Shelby County organizations consisted of two events that celebrated its latest steps

During the first event of the day, which began at 10:45 a.m., State Rep. Corley Ellis, Cawaco RC&D Council representatives, Drayton Cosby of the Cosby Company, students and other guests toured Shelby County High School as they were presented displays of two separate projects that received grant funding.

The first of these two projects was an outdoor instructional garden, which received a grant in the amount $5,000 to aid in its further expansion, support and development.

“We try to make sure that we find projects that are vetted, strong and have good support,” Cosby said. “We also get projects that need seed funding in order to get started. This (garden) is just one example.”

Currently, the garden serves as an educational tool to teach gardening skills and agricultural lessons to students and also serves as a source of activities presented to the school’s special needs students. The garden’s initial development also holds its origins thanks largely to preceding grants from Cawaco.

Thanks to community support and these grants, it has now grown from a collection of garden beds to an established, fenced and landscaped area that sits adjacent to an included greenhouse.

“The fact that it has moved from where it was—from just little (garden) beds—to this is just amazing,” Ellis said. “We could not do it without the funding from Cuwaco. It speaks volumes to me on why they do what they do, it gives me chills just thinking about it. When you come out here and watch the students—its teaching them life skills. It’s an amazing thing to do”

Dustin Cleckler, who serves as an agriscience teacher at the high school, also thanked Ellis, members of the Cawaco RC&D Council and the Cosby company, which works closely with the council in their grant efforts on both the state and local level, for their continued support of the garden and the school’s program.

The second grant to go toward Shelby County High School, in the amount of $10,000, was directed toward the purchase and installation of the school’s new theater and stage sound equipment. According to Ashlyn Kuyrkendall, who serves as the school’s choir director, the previous system had been in place since the school’s construction and was partially inoperable and had long needed improvements.

“The new system is such a blessing,” said Kathryn Myrick, the school’s theatre teacher. “We’re so glad it is setup, and everyone can now see everything.”

Following the tour of the high school, Rep. Ellis, Cosby and Cawaco representatives reconvened at the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum for the second event at 1:30 p.m. and were met by State Sens. Lance Bell and April Weaver. There, all attendants boarded one of the museum’s historical passenger railcars for presentations of four grants amounting to $22,198.47.

“To everyone at Cawaco RC&D, I want to thank you for being here today and helping us work with our community partners,” Weaver said. “A lot of times we do things in Montgomery that we don’t actually get to see what the end result is. (Cawaco) has always been great partners to us from a legislative standpoint and to be here today seeing all of these worthwhile projects here in our district and our county—I just want to thank you again for supporting all of these efforts, our county and our community.”

The Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum itself was one of the grant recipients, with a grant in the amount of $5,000 that will go toward the planned establishment of a Discovery Center which will house a miniature train display.

“We had a large model train collection donated to us from a family in South Carolina that encompassed 2,400 square feet of trains,” said Mark Walker, with the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum. “It is currently in storage here in Calera and for the last two and a half years we’ve been working on how to get a building to house it as right now we just don’t have the space to put it in. We started out trying to raise money for a master site plan and learned about Cawaco through Jackie Batson with Calera Main Street. Cawaco has helped us do this master site plan and we’re most appreciative of them and of course our legislators.

In addition, John Vanderford, who serves as county extension coordinator with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, spoke on the many efforts the 4-H program undertakes to provide learning experiences to children in Shelby County. This included outdoor activities and the 4-H Clover classrooms, which were the focus of the received grant in the amount of $4,861.91.

“We are extremely blessed in Shelby County, in our office with the partners that we have,” Vanderford said. “We can show kids the impact that farmers have on all of us every single day. It’s very cool to see that lightbulb go off when they see that. They learn that they can make real money (with agriculture) too. They don’t have to have a thousand acres and a tractor, they can make real money doing it with no background, they just have to be exposed to it.”

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System is the primary outreach organization for the land-grant mission of Alabama A&M University and Auburn University, which delivers research-based educational programs that enable people to improve their quality of life and economic well-being.

In addition, The Shoal Creek Park Foundation was awarded a grant in the amount of $7,826.03 for their efforts in bettering and expanding the parks offerings including the emplacement of park benches along the trail.

The Shelby County Historical Society also received funding with a grant in the amount of $4,510.53 for their development of the Shelby Iron Works Park’s Historic Ruins Walking Trail.

Cawaco Resource Conservation & Development is a non-profit organization that supports educational and community development projects in Central Alabama throughout Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, Shelby and Walker Counties.