By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times
Members of the Fulton Community Volunteers have been keeping a list of improvements — both small and large — the city has seen since the group’s formation two years ago.
That list currently has 208 items on it. By the time this story is published, there will likely be a few more.
Of course, not every change on the list was a direct result of FCV involvement, but a majority of them were. If not spearheaded by group members, they were at least indirectly affected by the group’s influence. Sometimes all it takes is a little push to get a ball rolling in the right direction. In the minds of the group’s founding members, that’s exactly what they’re doing: Pushing in the right direction.
“We don’t have an agenda; we’re just all about Fulton,” said Randy Aycock, who, along with his wife, Judge Sharion Aycock, was among those who helped form the group in July 2011. Back then, the organization — if it could even be called that — was more a loose collection of residents who just wanted to pitch in and improve their community — didn’t even have a formal name.
Lynn Blaylock, another of what she refers to as the group’s “core members,” cued in with a similar, though slightly more elaborate statement:
“Our agenda is to walk around town and see what needs to be improved,” she said. “It’s anything from the small details to the big picture of how we can make a difference in Fulton.”
Since its inception, the group has had a hand in several major aesthetic changes to the city. Among these include the construction of a flower bed in front of the city’s post office; rallying behind downtown business owners to improve their buildings; landscaping the area around the courthouse; the planting of dozens of trees near the Highway 78 interchange; working with other local volunteer groups to pick up trash weekly and the organization of a monthly workday to further beautification efforts around the city.
Attendance at each one of these events varies quite a bit. For one of its monthly Saturday work sessions, there were upwards of 40 people pitching in. Sometimes, it’s down to the low teens. According to Blaylock, the aforementioned “core group” — the people who almost always participate in whatever the group is doing — consists of about 15 people.
While the fluctuating attendance might seem like a detriment rather than an asset, Blaylock promised that wasn’t the case.
“One of the keys to the success of the FCV is that we recognize that every member doesn’t have to be present at all functions,” she said. “We started with a large group of people and quickly learned that different people like to do different kinds of things.”
For example, quite a few members enjoy getting their hands dirty with landscaping or picking up trash. Others, however, aren’t much for the outdoors. Instead, they may work on some of the behind the scenes stuff — perhaps soliciting donations or applying for grants. One member does nothing but write thank-you cards.
Members believe it’s this flexibility that gives the group its strength. The FCV is much more a loose collection of individuals … people who come and go and participate in whatever projects suit their moods. Turns out, this is far from the recipe for failure it may seem to be at first blush.
“As long as each member contributes in ways he or she can, we are able to utilize the talents of our members for very specific projects,” she said. “Some people are truly more interested in something like business development than getting outside and working with a shovel.”
Instead of turning those people away, the group tries to utilize their individual areas of expertise. This has enabled them to successfully apply for grants, solicit the help from both local volunteer groups and local officials and work hand-in-hand with local business owners. No one is ever turned away from the group because of what he or she isn’t willing to do. That, its organizers believe, is what keeps the motor running.
With two years and 208 items behind it, the Fulton Community Volunteers are looking to the future. There’s always work to be done.
According to Aycock, one of the group’s priorities moving forward will be a push to reinforce zoning ordinances citywide and work to improve or destroy dilapidated properties. The latter, in particular, will be of tantamount importance; the group hopes to continue working with city officials to identify, condemn or clean blighted properties … something in which the group has dabbled but hasn’t yet dived into headfirst.
“Once things start going downhill, it’s hard to get them heading in the opposite direction,” Blaylock said, speaking of blighted properties.
Aycock said forming some sort of citywide recycling program is also on the agenda, though its shape and form has yet to be determined. Earlier efforts to begin such a program were shot down at the city council level due to expense. Aycock believes that, given time, the program will eventually pay for itself.
“To move forward as a progressive town, [recycling] is something we’ve got to look at,” Aycock said.
Along those same lines, it was through the efforts of the FCV that the city’s large recycling bin was moved from the Emergency Management Agency parking lot on Access Road to its current, more visible location on South Adams Street, near the fire department.
Plans for upcoming workday projects include the installation of a planting bed at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Kennedy Street; cleanup and improvement to signage on Clifton Street and its baseball park; and cleanup of the Learning Park on Cummings Street.
There’s much work to be done, Blaylock said, but the group is happy to be doing it. The strongest communities are those whose members are willing to put in the effort — what she called “positivity, patience and persistence” — needed to make it the best it can be. As the group’s list of accomplishments shows, its members are never shy about doing just that.
“Our plate is full, but we see the results of the hard work we’ve already done and know that our efforts will continue,” Blaylock said. “We’ll continue working to improve Fulton and make it an even more wonderful community in which to live.”
Seems like that list might require its own ream of paper before it’s said and done.