Cory Robinson knew he wanted to do something big to help his community.
But as a seventh-grader, he didn’t know what he could do or how he could do it. That is, until he learned about Jackson County United Way during a recent Seymour Middle School student government meeting.
Teacher Jamey Doriot had invited Jackson County United Way Executive Director Tonja Couch to talk to the group of around 30 student leaders about building a better community through community service and volunteering.
“It was about how everybody in the community needs to start giving back to the community,” Cory said. “She just told us how much was needed in the community and how we needed to be a giving community instead of a taking community.”
He took that message to heart.
Cory, who turns 13 on Nov. 13, said he has always wanted to do something to help, and Couch’s talk was the inspiration he needed to take action and make it happen.
“When she came in, that was kind of the match that lit the fire,” Cory said.
He doesn’t think kids are intimidated by volunteering. He believes they are more worried about trying something and failing.
Couch mentioned some ways kids could step up and get involved.
“She suggested some projects, and there was one that I had thought of that she kind of mentioned, so I brought the idea up to my mom,” he said.
That idea revolved around getting a group of kids together to spend time volunteering at one of the city’s parks. The Robinson family visits the parks often during the summer, and Cory said when he goes past them, he always thinks about what he could do to help clean them up.
Once the idea was planted, Cory knew he had to make contact with the right people to make it grow, so he reached out to Bonita Dobbs, program manager with Jackson County United Way, and Bob Tabeling, director of the Seymour Parks and Recreation Department.
Together, they decided to focus on Shields Park because of how much it gets used and its proximity to Seymour Middle School.
“I thought this would be a good idea to help the community look nice and have a nice park for kids to play at,” Cory said.
He said it took a lot of planning and talking to others to organize the project.
“It was kind of a series of events and talking to different people, first Bonita and then Bob and then working with the school to get permission,” he said. “And that led to talking to students.”
Throughout the whole planning process, Cory’s mother, Kristen Robinson, stayed involved but let her son do all of the work.
“I told him I could help him set up appointments, but you’re doing all the talking, and he did,” she said.
Although talking to adults can intimidate some kids, it never phased Cory, who knew he had to have the right people on board. Not only did he get the Seymour Middle School student government to participate, but he also invited student government representatives from Seymour High School.
“My sister goes to the high school, and she wanted to do it, so we thought it would be a good idea to involve the high school, too,” Cory said.
All of the planning led up to the big day Oct. 30 when Cory led two separate work sessions at Shields Park — one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There were 32 students in all who worked — 12 high school students and 20 middle-schoolers — along with a few community volunteers, a couple of police officers, parks department employees and adults from the schools to supervise.
“Mrs. Doriot put out a signup sheet for students,” Cory said. “We knew the kids in student government were leaders and good kids, so we knew that would be a good idea.”
But Cory was still shocked at the number of students who wanted to help, he said.
That morning, students worked around the playground, raking leaves, pulling weeds and leveling sand and mulch areas around the slides and swings. In the afternoon, the second group worked at the big baseball diamond, pulling weeds and leveling and edging the field and cleaning up the dugouts.
Originally, the workday was to be Oct. 23 in memory of Cory’s brother, Logan, who died at birth. Although they weren’t able to make that happen due to scheduling conflicts, Cory still did the work in Logan’s memory.
“It looked really nice at the end,” Cory said. “It felt really good to help, and it was nice to drive by afterwards and see all the work we did.”
Kristen said her son is passionate about the parks and making a difference.
“He plays baseball here. He loves playing sports here. We go to the pool, and I babysit in the summer, so we bring the little kids here,” Kristen said. “He loves everything about the parks, and it does bother him when he sees trash in the park.”
By having a volunteer day, Cory said it helped the parks department accomplish tasks that it might not get to do right away.
“All the workers that work for our community can’t do it alone,” he said. “So there needs to be citizens to help.”
Dobbs said she is proud of Cory.
“He did this,” she said. “He got his something big, and he did it himself. It’s exciting that this boy is being driven to make a difference in his community and doing it with minimal outside help.”
In the spring, Cory said he would like to do a second volunteer day to help put in new mulch and paint the dugouts.
Kristen said she was not surprised that Cody was able to pull off the volunteer day.
“Volunteering is just something he’s been around,” she said. “Our community is awesome as far as volunteering goes.”
There are plenty of ways to volunteer, you just have to look for them, Cory added.
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-523-7069.