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New Bridge Academy's Garden a team effort with USC mentors, Lexington County Master Gardners

West Columbia, SC -- New Bridge Academy’s students are always looking to take on community service projects.

This year, they found one right in their own backyard -- or, in this case, their own courtyard.

Students are transforming an exterior courtyard at the former Davis Elementary, where New Bridge relocated this summer. Students, working with University of South Carolina mentors and Lexington County Master Gardener Volunteers, are creating a garden that will feature a fountain and fish pond, perennials in colorfully painted recycled tires, raised plant beds, herb and vegetable gardens, a shade tree and more.

The school’s past service projects have included cleaning up the Julius Felder Garden in Cayce; painting a house and cleaning up a neighborhood with Habitat for Humanity; and helping organize a needs pantry that helps the homeless. But the chance to work on the courtyard at the school’s new home on Cayce’s Frink Street was especially meaningful.

“Each semester, we take on a service project as a way for students to learn and appreciate to give back to the school and community,” said New Bridge counselor and community service project coordinator Karen Stevens. “Our very first service project in 2017 was working with Lexington County Master Gardener Volunteers to beautify our old courtyard site (at the former Pair Elementary). When we saw the need to beautify the courtyard in our new home, we reached out again to the Master Gardeners, and member Mac Cooley immediately expressed an interest in working with us. He lives in the Edenwood neighborhood and saw an opportunity to bridge the community with the school.”

About 25 University of South Carolina students also are working on the garden and other projects at New Bridge as part of a mentoring partnership established in 2017 with the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The university foundation also has contributed some funds for the garden, and the Lexington County Master Gardener Volunteers has donated many of the plants, as well as a shade tree.

Cooley said he hopes to draw the interest of other potential donors and volunteers to join the New Bridge project, which he sees as continuing into the near future. He already is bringing in a fellow master gardener guest to offer advice on the project.

“I expect that this project will last for several semesters,” Cooley said. “The goal is not to complete it within a specified period of time, but to provide community service opportunities for the students to work on with their mentors. There is the opportunity to work on other areas of the property, too. Once the planting and building projects in the courtyard are complete, New Bridge may opt to undertake additional projects. Lexington County Master Gardener Volunteers will partner with the school for those projects as well.”

While Cooley likes being able to help a school in his own neighborhood, the project extends beyond beautification.

“Lexington County Master Gardener Volunteers considers all of its projects special,” Cooley said. “For me personally, this project transcends a typical gardening activity. It is providing an opportunity to assist New Bridge faculty and the USC Criminal Justice students in working with at-risk children and hopefully making a meaningful and positive difference in theirs lives.”

The feeling is mutual.

“Mac’s enthusiasm in working with us has caused excitement in the school,” New Bridge’s Stevens said. “We have adopted each other, and he is proving to be a wonderful asset to our school.”

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