UF students team up for a makeover at Sidney Lanier
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014 at 6:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 21, 2014 at 6:28 p.m.
By the time the rain cleared Friday afternoon, the early stages of a big makeover at the Sidney Lanier Center were in full swing.
A dozen volunteers worked in the damp mulch of the playground, pulling weeds and digging holes where trees would be planted. A dozen more unpacked boxes in the library.
Hundreds of people will fill in the 75 murals already penciled onto the walls, indoors and outside.
In all, about 1,500 volunteers are expected to show up throughout the weekend to beautify the school for the seventh Project Makeover. They’ll work nearly nonstop in order to have everything ready for the big reveal Monday morning.
“I think they’re going to be really excited and kind of awestruck,” Principal Denise Schultz said. “It’s a massive kind of project. … You won’t have a grasp on it until Monday morning.”
The project truly is an undertaking, Project Makeover Executive Director Courtney Miller said.
It takes a whole year to plan. The 40 members of the nonprofit organization’s executive board spend some of that time raising funds to buy painting supplies, landscaping materials and anything they need to accomplish the school’s “dream project,” which the school’s faculty choose and pitch to the Project Makeover team.
This year, Miller said Project Makeover raised about $12,000 to create a library for the prekindergarten classes.
Sidney Lanier Center serves special-needs students ages 3 to 22.
The pre-K program, which is relatively new, has recently grown from two classrooms to seven, Schultz said. She wanted to expand the school’s resources for that age group.
In addition to getting their own reading room off the main media center specifically for pre-K students, they’ll get a whole new library of age-appropriate books and materials like magnets and “bug’s view” glasses that go along with the reading curriculum.
The rest of the project focuses on brightening up the campus.
Miller said the volunteers will plant 15 trees, dozens of bushes and flowering plants, set up vegetable gardens and a compost pile, clean up the campus and paint 75 murals.
All 75 murals — which encompass massive pieces that take up entire walls as well as individual butterflies and inspirational words that appear in strategic places around the school — were designed by Sarah Combs, a University of Florida visual arts studies senior.
Combs, 21, said it took her six months to design all the art. During the week, volunteers used a projector to transfer her drawings to the walls of Sidney Lanier.
Some of them are paint-by-number, for the less artistically inclined, but later in the weekend, UF art students will come in and add details to the artwork.
“It’s been a lot of work, in a good way,” Combs said.
The volunteers come from everywhere, Miller said. Project Makeover does heavy recruiting on social media in the months leading up to the event, then attends student organization meetings to try to recruit whole clubs.
This year, she said, in addition to the many individuals who come out to help, Project Makeover drew the UF honors college, Florida Cicerones, the UF Tae Kwon Do Club, the men’s and women’s ultimate Frisbee teams, Gator Badminton and the College of Law, in addition to several fraternities and sororities.
Devin Ross, a UF health sciences junior, said she volunteered with Project Makeover last year through her sorority. This year, as president of the UF chapter of the nonprofit To Write Love On Her Arms, she brought six members of her own organization.
It’s a good cause, and it’s fun, said Ross, 21.
“I had a good time doing it last year, and I figured they would really enjoy it this year,” she said.
Volunteers work in three-hour shifts of about 150 or 200 people at a time, she said. Many return for multiple shifts.
Most volunteers register prior to the event, coordinators said, but anyone is welcome to come out to help. Some Sidney Lanier staff are helping out over the weekend, too.
Prep work began at the school Monday, and volunteers started showing up after school let out Friday, but on Saturday and Sunday they’ll start filing in around 7:30 a.m., Miller said.
“There’s years we don’t leave here until midnight,” she said.
Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.