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Wednesday, January 02, 2013 7:09 PM

Leadership class hopes to grow education, weed out hunger

By BOBBY BURCH, Herald Staff Writer

Fortunate timing might soon boost educational opportunities while decreasing hunger in Franklin County. 

Leadership Franklin County now is working to build a greenhouse near Wellsville High School to augment the school district’s agricultural curriculum, which received a grant in September. The greenhouse would act not only as an educational tool for students, but also as a fundraising entity to alleviate area hunger, Jeff Hammons, Leadership Franklin County class president, said.

“Timing is everything,” Hammons, one of about a dozen students in the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Franklin County program, said. The program is designed to develop current and future leaders in the area.

“One of our class members attended a Wellsville School Board meeting and [the Wellsville school district] had just been approved a grant to start an agricultural program there,” Hammons said. “They talked during the meeting and said that a greenhouse would be a nice contribution to the program as learning tool. ... It’s really a win-win.”

The leadership class is raising funds for the more than 500-square-foot greenhouse, which would be located east of the high school’s football field and cost about $14,500, Hammons said. Successfully constructing the greenhouse project will fulfill Hammons’ and his peers’ graduation criteria for the leadership course by two-fold, he said, noting that the course obliges students to complete a community service project. In addition to providing Wellsville students a hands-on learning experience, the greenhouse’s yield also would raise funds for several Franklin County anti-hunger programs, Hammons said. At the end of every school year, Hammons said, Wellsville students will sell the greenhouse’s plants, fruits or vegetables to the public. Seventy-five percent of the yield’s proceeds would benefit anti-hunger programs, while the remaining portion will go back to Wellsville schools. 

The leadership group decided to help the area’s anti-hunger programs after realizing the dire need in Franklin County, Leadership Franklin County said in a release. 

“Hunger is a significant area of concern for Franklin County,” the group said. “According to Feeding America’s 2010 Map the Meal Gap project, the food insecurity rate in Franklin County is 14.2 percent, comprising approximately 3,680 individuals. ... Many of these individuals do not qualify for federal anti-hunger programs and must rely on charitable food assistance to meet their nutritional needs. The greenhouse project will address this area of societal need in Franklin County.” 

The leadership class, however, might soon exceed its graduation criteria, as certain class members — including Hammons and Rob Pearce — intend to assist the Ottawa school district in constructing a similar greenhouse, Hammons said. The Ottawa school board now is reviewing plans to construct a greenhouse for educational purposes, Hammons said. 

The group thus far has raised about $1,500 for the Wellsville greenhouse, Hammons said, but still is waiting on news regarding its many grant applications. The group, Hammons said, likely will receive part of Wellsville schools’ $10,000 grant from the America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education organization, which awarded the district funds in September. 

Jerry Henn, superintendent of Wellsville schools, said he is excited to see how the greenhouse will augment his students’ learning opportunities. 

“It will benefit [Wellsville students] in several different areas — not only on the science side, but through the vocational side,” Henn said. “I believe that kids learn just as well, if not better, from hands-on activities. I’m excited about the opportunity for kids to get out there and get their hands dirty and have some fun in there. I think kids will learn from that.” 

John Coen, president and chief executive officer of the Ottawa Area Chamber Commerce, lauded the leadership class’ choice of community service work. Not only would the greenhouse educate students and provide help to those in need, but it also teaches Franklin County leaders about cooperation and teamwork. 

“I think this is a very noble project that [Leadership Franklin County] has undertaken,” Coen, whose organization designed the Leadership Franklin County program, said. “I like the idea, the concept and the fact that they are reaching out to another community in Franklin County.”

To supplement the greenhouse’s cost, Leadership Franklin County plans sell barbecue dinners at noon, Jan. 22 at Ottawa’s Country Mart, 2138 S. Princeton Circle Drive, Ottawa.

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