A young volunteer finds fertile ground for his efforts

There they were, a kaleidoscope of cheerful, vibrant flowers, where just days before only dirt, grass, and weeds stood in their place.

I had gotten the inspiration earlier in the summer to make my neighborhood in Beverly, Mass., a little brighter after watching a TV show about kids volunteering, and after reading how President Bush asked Americans to devote 4,000 hours to community service in their lifetimes.

I thought: Why not start my 4,000 hours this summer? Before heading off to camp, I would just be playing video games or surfing the Internet anyway.

So my mother and I drove to our city hall and asked the woman in charge how we could help. We thought that since Beverly is known as the "garden city" but had no flowers growing in any parks near us, we could do some gardening. We picked two parks, Dane Street Beach and Independence Park, where the Declaration of Independence was read to townspeople in 1776.

The week after school let out, my mom and I started our project by marking an area where we would create a flower bed at Dane Street Beach.

Then we asked local garden centers for help. I was surprised that every store we went to was eager to donate flowers: petunias, geraniums, zinnias, and ageratum. We got everything we needed free, including a patriotic mix of red, white, and blue for Independence Park and a medley of blue, magenta, white, and pink for Dane Street Beach.

But when it came time to dig into the soil, we ran into a problem: pouring rain.

It didn't stop us, though. We put on our slickers and boots and headed for the commons. All the flowers were planted at Independence Park that day. Afterward, we were coated in mud and soaking wet.

Dane Street Beach presented a more onerous task. We had to dig up the grass with a pitchfork. This took us two days. We got a donation of topsoil from a store to put on top of the stripped ground.

We planted the flowers, fertilized them, then mulched the soil with a layer of bark to help prevent weeds. The result was a circular garden surrounding an intersection of two boardwalks.

As we were planting at Dane Street Beach, my mother and I got many encouraging remarks from passersby. People said: "It looks beautiful" and "Good work." One woman said she loved the flowers and then reminisced about how, when she was in high school, she always came to Dane Street to get her first tan of the summer.

My mom told her that we were going to plant bulbs in the fall, and the woman asked if we would take donations. She gave us a check for $25.

Others were surprised when they learned we were doing this because we love our community. Many people asked if they could help the neighborhood, too, and we told them to contact City Hall.

I now think that community service is a very worthwhile experience. I feel as if I have accomplished something meaningful, and even though our gardens are modest, I have learned something more valuable than I would have just playing video games.

Community service means that you care about where you live, you care about your neighbor, and you care about giving something of yourself that enriches your environment and makes it a better place.

What other things will I be doing for my next 3,950 hours? The possibilities include helping out at the senior center and painting playground equipment.

How many hours have you given?

• Editor's note: Chase Clements is in the eighth grade. After his volunteer experience this summer, he ran for secretary-treasurer of his school and won. His platform: bringing the spirit of community service to the school.

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