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Union Grove JROTC cadets help HOPE Park

Third-year cadet Holt Esslinger, left, and fourth-year cadet Armond Dillard pull weeds out of an above-ground planter and remove material from a large trellis in the HOPE Park community gardens. (Special Photo)

Third-year cadet Holt Esslinger, left, and fourth-year cadet Armond Dillard pull weeds out of an above-ground planter and remove material from a large trellis in the HOPE Park community gardens. (Special Photo)

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Union Grove High School Navy JROTC cadets Kaity Esslinger, from left, Jacob Adams, Ryan Coffie and Cody Ford pick potatoes from a planter during a recent cleanup project at the HOPE Park community gardens. (Special Photo)

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Union Grove High School Navy JROTC instructor Chief Robert Sherwood’s son Robby, 10, from left, joined cadets Nahdirah Muhammad and Mary Price during a cleanup project at HOPE Park in Lovejoy.

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Volunteers from Union Grove High School’s Navy JROTC program pose for a photography during a weekend cleanup project at HOPE Park. (Special Photo)

LOVEJOY — The young cadets aggressively broke up soil and tore weeds from the raised beds at the HOPE Park Community Garden.

Chief Robert Sherwood said he was glad to see members of Union Grove High School’s Navy JROTC program take pride in helping transform the garden.

“We do teach them teamwork, and this is part of it,” said Sherwood, an instructor in the JROTC program. “This builds teamwork and it build camaraderie.”

Sherwood helps supervise cadets in clean-up projects at HOPE Park, 17 cadets helped out last month in the community garden near downtown Lovejoy.

“We spent about four hours down there, cleaning up, pulling weeds, mowing, taking down old trellises, placing above-ground garden boxes and replacing fill dirt,” he said. “HOPE Park is absolutely one of the places that we’re going to commit to.”

Cadets have volunteered for the Southern Crescent Sports Foundation Inc. before. The foundation, led by Fayetteville couple Linda and David Clark, is the nonprofit group responsible for the HOPE Park Project’s mission in “Helping Other People Excel.”

The foundation is in the midst of building a multi-faceted park that would serve disabled youth and adults. It will sit on 26 acres of infrastructure left by the failed beginnings of a new subdivision at the corner of East Lovejoy and Hastings Bridge roads.

The Clarks plan to incorporate a 30,000 square foot all-accessible playground, eight baseball fields and the community garden in HOPE Park. One of the ball fields will be a competitive wheelchair softball field that will double as a Miracle League Field. There are also plans for a certified commercial kitchen and a youth work development program to serve Henry, Clayton, Fayette, and Spalding counties.

David Clark said the organization is targeting businesses, community groups and schools to help make the vision a reality. He said participants can do that monetarily, through in-kind donations and by volunteering as Union Grove’s cadets have.

“The ROTC cadets were awesome,” said David Clark. “They worked really hard, and got a lot more done than we ever expected that they would. We are thrilled with them. It was cool that the cadets were asking questions about gardening with genuine interest.”

He said the students were able to learn about harvesting vegetables such as green beans, rattlesnake beans, snow peas and brussels sprouts.

Sherwood said he brought his 10-year-old son, Robby, with him to learn about gardening and community service as his cadets did.

“It brings a sense of community to them and ownership of their community,” said Sherwood. “It sounds so cliche but it’s so true. You want to teach them to do something for the good of it, without expecting something in return. Even if they don’t reap the award of the food directly, they’re ensuring that someone will.”

The Southern Crescent Sports Foundation is planning its Second Annual Poker Run fundraiser Sept. 28. The poker-theme motorcycle charity ride benefits the construction of HOPE Park. To learn contribute to the charity, visit www.OurHopePark.com.