HANNIBAL | Several different non-profit organizations and the Marion County Sheriff's Department partnered up for the Unity Matters Project and picked up trash around the Huck Finn Shopping Center in a service project on Tuesday.
The non-profit organizations that created Project Unity include Be The Change For Your Community and the Bluff City Theater Youth Education (YETI) and Mentorship Program.
Bluff City Theater YETI director Gale Rublee said the project is the brainchild of Be The Change For Your Community consultant Amy Vaughn and herself.
“We began to talk in the beginning of June when a lot of the unrest was going on in relation to Black Lives Matter and we were talking about how unity matters,” Rublee said. “Amy (Vaughn) has done service projects with kids (in the past) … and now with her own company, part of her mission is to show unity in the community.”
Tuesday was the first of several service projects planned by the Unity Matters Project, with the group scheduling various service projects for the next three weeks on Tuesdays.
Event organizers included kids primarily from the 12 to 16 age range, who meet once a week via Zoom meeting to discuss issues, their personal stories and their perspectives on current events.
“Our intention was to get an equal group of Black kids and white kids together to do service projects and to work towards a performance piece,” Rublee said. “This is our first service project. We wanted to include the sheriff's department and we also have Floranisha Green from Youth Empowered Sports and Activities, and she has brought families she works with here today.”
The Unity Project reached out to the Marion County Sheriff's Department for assistance with the community service project last week to assist with the trash cleanup. On Tuesday, sheriff's department personnel led small three small groups of volunteers in picking up trash along Walmart and the Huck Finn Shopping Center.
Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Shinn said this project was a good way to give back to the community.
“It just shows that we are all in this together,” Shinn said. “Right now, we are going through some tough times with (COVID-19), the protests and things of that nature. Just to bring us together in our community shows that we are all working for a common goal here, and that's the betterment of our community.”
Shinn worked alongside 10-year-old volunteer Tanner Raybon in picking up trash around the Huck Finn Shopping Center.
“It's fun,” Raybon said. “I like doing this type of stuff because when I lived in Columbia, I picked up trash. I want to be in sports when I grow up, I love basketball and football and I like doing this for the community.”
Another young volunteer included Kelsey Lightle, who participated in the Bluff City Theater YETI program for four years and was invited to volunteer in Tuesday's trash pickup.
Lightle said her group played a scavenger hunt game while picking up trash to make it more fun.
“I'm very glad they started this,” Lightle said. “I feel that with this whole program that are motive can come to life, and we really can bring Hannibal into unity, which is really what this project is about.”
Each participant received an “Unity Matters” t-shirt, which was developed with assistance from Landmark.
Unity Matters Project organizers plan on developing a performance piece they hope to debut in mid-October.
“We really want the community to see these kids can come together, they can work together and they can have positive discourse together and so can we,” Rublee said. “They are really an example for the adults right now and we see these young teens becoming leaders in our community eventually, so we hope this is a lasting project for them.”