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Robinson Leaders create memorial bench in West Liberty

Four students in the Robinson Leaders Program created a tile mosaic bench at Old Mill Park in West Liberty to memorialize Morgan County residents who were killed in a tornado on March 2nd, 2012. From the left are Halley Wilson and Savannah Johnson (Morgan County High Schoool), Austin Moore (Sheldon Clark High School), and Shelby Fairchild (Paintsville High School)

Their service idea was formulated in the Summer of 2012 as part of a camp sponsored by the Robinson Scholars Program at the University of Kentucky. At the Appalachian history and culture themed camp, students were asked to develop community service projects that utilized arts and humanities.

Some of the camp attendees lived in or near eastern Kentucky communities that were devastated by tornadoes on March 2, 2012, and wanted to get involved in the efforts to rebuild. Four of the camp attendees decided to create a memorial bench to place in Old Mill Park in West Liberty, which saw significant damage

A step stone created in memory of Wilmer Cecil included his picture and items that reflected on his life and career. Steps stones were created to commemorate all seven victims of the 2012 tornado in Morgan County

from the tornado. Their project would focus on the seven residents of Morgan County who lost their lives during the storm.

Shelby Fairchild, a junior from Paintsville High School, began planning the project last summer and organized other Robinson students to decorate and place the memorial. She was also assisted on the project by her father, mother, and brother.

“We had planned to do a larger project, but the city had already fixed a lot of the park; so, we decided to do a memorial,” Fairchild said. The memorial is a tile mosaic bench and commemorative step stones that were placed on May 18, 2013.

Halley Wilson, a junior at Morgan County High School, felt that honoring those who lost their lives was a good foundation for the group’s community service project. “These people need to be honored because this is something that changed everybody’s lives in the community, not just the families of the victims,” she said.

Fairchild and Wilson teamed up with Savannah Johnson, a sophomore from Morgan County, and Austin Moore, a junior at Sheldon Clark High School in Martin County. “It’s nice to help out other communities and give back to those who have lost,” Moore said.

The four students, assisted by their family members devoted their Saturday to decorating the bench and creating step stones that commemorate each of the seven Morgan County tornado victims. Fairchild did research on the individuals to find out about them and determine what items could be used to reflect on their lives.

For instance, to honor Wilmer Cecil, a World War II veteran and a tractor and car salesman, the students created a step stone with items relevant to Cecil’s life, such as a tractor, an American flag, and a car. Another victim was Betty Sue Endicott. Items for Endicott’s step stone reflected her dedication as a homemaker and love for sewing. The other victims who were memorialized for the project include Elizabeth Endicott, Charles Endicott, Emma Cecil, Clayton Dulin, and Dr. C.C. Smith.

In addition to finding out about the lives of these Morgan County residents, Fairchild and her team members developed a project proposal and budget, which they submitted to the Robinson Scholars Program for funding. All students in Robinson Scholars programs are asked to complete community service work. In some instances, RSP will support projects that require financial assistance.

“We encourage our students to think about the entire scope of their community service ideas,” said Jeff Spradling, Robinson Scholars director. “While some service projects are pretty straight forward and don’t require planning and financial support, others do. In those instances, we ask our students to think about things like time commitments, recruitment of volunteers, materials needed, and the cost. Where appropriate, we seek to support projects that have high impact in the communities in our service region.

“I am very proud of this particular group of students because of the thought and time they put into the project. Shelby developed a detailed budget and project proposal and actually went out into the community to seek assistance with it. Through her efforts, the concrete bench was donated, and other students and community members committed their time to help out.”

The project was supported by the EQT Foundation, the Wells Group, and the Robinson Scholars Program. The Wells Group, a West Liberty company, donated the concrete park bench. EQT Foundation provided financial support for materials through a grant to the Robinson Scholars Program.

Robinson Leaders – including the four students involved in this project -- complete at least 10 hours of community service per year as high school students. In addition to their service work, they must also maintain at least a 3.0 GPA, participate in extra-curricular activities, and devote time to personal enrichment. Robinson Leaders are also eligible to apply for the Robinson Scholarship, which is a full, 4-year scholarship to the University of Kentucky.

The Robinson Scholars Program provides 29 full UK scholarships to eastern Kentucky students each year. The program, now in its 16th year, has two distinct components. One component focuses on college preparation and leadership development for high school students, called the Robinson Leaders. The second component is a college program that works with students who have received the Robinson Scholarship, assisting them in the goal to achieve a 4-year degree.

For the 2012-13 academic year, Robinson Scholars at UK completed more than 2,000 hours of community service and had a cumulative GPA of 3.24. Of the service work completed by college scholars, about a third of it was done in eastern Kentucky.

“It is important that our program return value to the communities we serve,” Spradling said. “Through projects like the memorial park bench and the outstanding work our UK scholars complete each year in eastern Kentucky and in service to our program, we are seeing the potential and hope our young people bring to the region.”