OAKLEY – Jalyn McLean and other Oakley High School students in the Future Philanthropist Program (FPP) thought their community could do with a bit more purple – about 9 ½ tons of it would do the trick.
McLean and Ryley Sharpe presented the group’s idea to the city council in January. FPP representatives wrote successful grant applications to the Logan County Community Foundation and the Dane G. Hansen Foundation and arranged for assistance from people with forklifts. Then, after a semi arrived in June with 23 820-pound concrete planters, dyed purple, the students had them placed on downtown street corners and at other public locations.
Since then, they’ve stayed busy watering flowers and shrubs. The group includes a few more students than planters, so generally speaking, each member of FPP waters a planter once or twice a week.
“We thought this would not make our community look better – because our community already looks fantastic as it is – but it would add a pop of color here and there and get our community to be as one instead of separate businesses,” said McLean, a senior who serves as FPP’s student adviser.
McLean, who works at the grocery store, waters her planter after she gets off work in the evening. While she’s working, people who come in to shop often tell her they appreciate the new additions to Oakley’s business district.
“I’ve had several people tell me it was a really good idea, and they’re glad we did it,” she said. “They think it made a difference in our community. I’ve heard quite a few comments that it looks really pretty.”
Since it was formed in Oakley four years ago, the FPP has given the community’s young people a vehicle for making positive change. Local attorney Craig Uhrich proposed creation of the group for philanthropic high schoolers after hearing about a similar program elsewhere.
The FPP was created as a program of the Logan County Community Foundation, and the Oakley school district allows its student members to meet at the school during activity periods.
Tara Temaat, the group’s mentor, and an Oakley High School teacher, said students can apply to join the FPP between their sophomore and senior years. The group started with six students, who initially distributed grant funds to local projects that benefited both youth and senior citizens. Funding for the grants came from the community foundation, which awarded FPP $10,000 annually for three years to fund local projects.
McLean said she played in the high school band when it received funding to purchase tuners.
“It had a big impact, even though it was not a whole bunch of money, but it helped us tremendously,” she said. The experience was part of the reason she wanted to join FPP when she became a sophomore.
This year, there are 25 members, who are involved in community projects, as well as school-focused activities.
“It is a lot of fun,” McLean said. “This helps us give back to the community. We put our time into them, and they put their time into us.”
At the high school, the group has been involved in painting, decorating walls with inspirational quotes, and stocking personal hygiene supplies in bathrooms.
In the larger community, FPP members have helped distribute boxes of healthy food as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers to Families program for COVID-19 assistance. The youth philanthropists also go out early in the morning on five patriotic holidays a year erecting flags in the yards of people who want them across Oakley and Monument. They return that evening to collect the flags.
With the planters, the FPP took on its most complex project to date. Before the project was selected, various ideas were discussed with representatives of other groups during a communitywide process called Strategic Doing. During the step-by-step, collaborative process for planning and completing projects, FPP representatives identified planters as the project they wished to pursue.
“We got to thinking that would be a super fun project for our group, and it would make our community brighter,” McLean said. “It would be something that everybody could look at and say, ‘This group did this.’ It would stick.”
With approval from the full FPP board, they started shopping. A Belson, Ill., firm was chosen to custom-make planters out of dyed concrete in the hope that they would stand up to the elements and require no ongoing maintenance.
“We thought purple planters in a purple town, why not?” McLean said. “We all think they look really good. We think it was a good color, not just because it is our school color, but it’s a color that is associated with Oakley. It’s who we are. It really makes it stand out. It adds color even without flowers.”
Once they had a plan in mind, McLean and Sharpe went to the city council for approval to proceed. McLean said presenting to the council was “kind of terrifying.”
“But after a while I started relaxing because it was something I was really passionate about, and I thought it would be a great opportunity for FPP and our community to work together,” she said.
In addition to the city council’s blessing, FPP members got strong community support for their efforts.
The city offered guidance on placement, as well as heavy equipment and city crews to help move the heavy planters, which became even heavier once they were filled with rock and soil. Oakley Farm & Home and American Implement also provided forklifts and manpower for planter placement. Eberle Construction provided topsoil and rock, and Diamond B Greenhouse donated flowers and potting soil.
Temaat said the group had to adjust when Belson Outdoors told them the price quote they’d been given on the planters had expired, and the cost had risen by $2,000 because of COVID-related supply shortages. Students approached the Logan County Community Foundation again and got a commitment for additional funding. The planters ended up costing about $15,000, with shipping costing more than $3,000.
Kenna Selzer, a sophomore and new FPP member, said she helped put rock and soil in the planters, as well as installing a device she called an octopus that helps distribute water throughout the planter. She and her mom take care of the planter at the courthouse.
“It’s doing well,” she said. “My mom and I will put pitchers of water in a cooler. If it’s hot, we do it twice a week. if not, once a week.”
McLean said the planter she cares for gets more wind and sun than optimal, and the plants there have never exactly thrived.
“It will be better next year once we get a different type of plant in it,” she said. “It needs plants that are adapted to wind and direct sunlight.”
Temaat said the plants in each planter are different, and one planter even has a name. The student taking care of it christened it Charlene Maryanna. She said once the blooms fade, the students plan to pull the flowers. For the holidays, they plan to decorate the shrubbery with solar lights.
“I’m just really proud of all the kids,” Temaat said. “Every one of them had to step up and take a planter and adopt it. There are several planters that are just busting at the seams with blooms.”