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High Hope volunteers help keep GSU's Botanical Garden beautiful

    Every Wednesday at noon, a group of volunteers comes to Georgia Southern Botanical Garden to help keep the grounds looking good for visitors. The Garden relies on volunteers to help with maintenance, plant sales, and festivals, but this group of volunteers is special: they come from High Hope, a facility in Statesboro for people with mental retardation and developmental disability (MRDD).
    “We like to try to give back to the community because they give us so much,” says June DiPolito, director of Pineland MH/MR/SA Services, a consortium of agencies and organizations providing assistance and prevention services in the areas of mental health, developmental disability and addictive diseases in Bulloch and seven other counties. High Hope is one of those agencies.
    One way they give back is by volunteering. “It is a great feeling to see them enjoy and take pride in their job at the Botanical Garden,” said High Hope staff member Bonnie Spiers. It also extends the learning they receive at High Hope.
    High Hope is a place where those with MRDD can work and earn a paycheck, learn life skills and socialize. The center offers numerous activities, workshops and outside ventures that allow each participant to work within their means. The center’s director, Gloria Kenure, says “they become more skilled and adapt to real-life situations by interacting with each other and in the activities the Center provides.”
    High Hope is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  The lives of participants vary, with some living in their own homes, in community housing, or in group homes, all of which are overseen by High Hope staff. Many pay their own bills and receive a paycheck for their work at High Hope.
    High Hope provides paying employment options for those who are able through partnerships with area companies.  “These activities help develop and enhance their hand-eye coordination, among other things,” a High Hope staffer noted, “and they also give them a sense of responsibility and ownership.”  
    While High Hope’s business partnerships give those with mental disabilities meaningful work and a source of income, DiPolito said, it’s also important to give back to the community through volunteering, and Georgia Southern Botanical Garden is one of the fortunate groups that can count on High Hope.  
    Each week a group comes to help out in the Garden and “make it pretty,” as one High Hope volunteer described. One recent Wednesday, R.C. Moses came ready to work with his gloves and made it clear he loved coming to the Garden: “I’m excited to be back!  I can rake a whole yard and don’t mind it!”  
    William James preferred just admiring the Garden. “I like the big magnolia trees, all of the woods and being outside,” he said, but he didn’t particularly like raking all the magnolia leaves.  Jeff Lee, another volunteer, was happy to be on campus and showed his devotion to Georgia Southern University by wearing his GSU football shirt and explaining that he has “a GSU jacket, football, and autographs from players.”  
    Regardless of their task for the day or the weather, the High Hope volunteers seemed happy to be at the Garden, and the Garden is grateful for their efforts.
    “The High Hope volunteers are always very careful about their work," said Sharmon Phillips, Georgia Southern Botanical Garden’s gardener. “I can always count on the allee being raked and the terrace cleaned. I look forward to Wednesdays when they come,” she added.

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