On an unusually warm Saturday in April, animal shelter officials, local students and members of the public gathered outside for the reveal of three new statues for the Johnson County Animal Shelter, fencing near nine months of work.
Since July, students at the Johnson County Leadership Academy Youth Leadership have been working on a community service project to beautify the Johnson County Animal Shelter in Franklin. The project included commissioning a local artist to build three statues for the shelter to redo some of the shelter’s flowerbeds. The project came to an end on Saturday, when the students and the artist unveiled the statues.
The Youth Leadership Academy is a five-month program designed to bring together a select group of local high school students to learn about their community and practice their leadership skills in a fun learning environment. As part of the academy, students must attend an opening retreat in July, attend four classes spread throughout the year, attend and complete a community service project, according to Johnson County Leadership.
There are 40 children in this year’s academy class, which is made up of students from public high schools, private schools and home schools. During this year’s retreat, the students chose to complete the animal shelter beautification project, said Lisa Kress, director of the Youth Leadership Academy.
Although the animal shelter project was first offered at the Youth Leadership Academy in recent years, these classes have chosen other projects. The academy’s goal is to fill a need in the county, so when this year’s academy class learned that the animal shelter project had yet to be chosen, they decided to s ‘tackling it,’ said Andrew Jones, 17, of Greenwood Community High School. Jones was one of the main organizers of the project.
“We really wanted something that was a long-standing need in the community, something that had been there for a little while,” Jones said.
The class also chose the project to help eliminate the stigma associated with the animal shelter. Although the county shelter has been a no-kill shelter for many years, when people think of animal control and shelters in general, they often think of harm to animals and don’t treat them with respect, said Jones. By embellishing the patterns, this connotation can be removed.
“Our goal here was to maintain the grounds a bit, help make some statues to make the place a little more inviting, de-stigmatize this idea that animal control/shelter is a bad place and show the community that it really is a good place and a good place for pets in our community,” Jones said.
All three statues were created by Amber Beasley, a local Franklin artist. Beasley was connected to the Youth Leadership Academy through Franklin’s Creative Arts Council, and she was both thrilled and honored to be part of the project, she said.
“I really enjoyed working with them,” Beasley said. “It was a joy to do it for them.”
The three statues were made from recyclable materials and were welded together by Beasley, who works as a fabricator for a local automotive company, she said.
Beasley used old fire extinguishers for the dog statue, recycled metal parts for the cat and old horseshoes for the frog. The horseshoes were originally meant to be scrapped, but scrap metal prices fell, allowing him to obtain them cheaply, Beasley said.
The statues are just one part of the shelter’s beautification project. The students also revitalized flower beds, ripping up dead plants and old mulch and replacing them with new plants and mulch, said Cari Klotzsche, director of the animal shelter.
Seventeen-year-old Sarah Stewart led the landscaping portion of the project, which included selecting all new plants, including hydrangeas, cora bells and salvias, among others. Stewart, who is homeschooled, was happy to have the opportunity to practice some of the skills the academy had taught her and was excited to go to a nursery and choose them, a- she declared.
“I was like a kid in a candy store. It was so exciting for me,” Stewart said.
Jones also helped with the landscaping, which was one of his favorite parts. Although the job wasn’t easy, it was fun to be able to go out and do something for the community with some great people, he said.
Throughout the project, several changes altered the original pitch received by the academy, the majority of which were due to a change in leadership at the animal shelter, Kress said. Klotzsche took over the director role last fall, replacing former director Michael Delp.
When the project was conceived, the plan was to have two or three large life-size statues, as well as work on the back of the shelter. Following the change in direction, the project moved to smaller statues and worked on the front side, Jones said.
“Actually, we had to adapt a lot…but we did very well,” he said.
Although many changes occurred throughout the project, it was an interesting and rewarding process. Abbey Wiggam, 17, a student from Whiteland Community High School, is happy to see the final draft come to fruition at an unveiling event, she said.
“A lot of changes have happened for this to happen, but they have all been changes for the better,” Wiggam said.
Wiggam’s favorite part of the project was the general energy of everyone involved. It felt like the students’ first big project where they had to take charge with a bigger goal in mind, she said.
“I think our group was able to take on the responsibility and the burden of bringing this larger project to fruition for our community,” Wiggam said.
While adults guide students through the process, they are less active once the process is started, leaving students to do most of the work. For the project, students are divided into several committees, including a fund committee, a project committee, a social committee and a recruiting committee, depending on the academy.
This particular project was made possible with funding from Leadership Johnson County and a grant from Modern Woodman, a life insurance and financial planning company, Wiggam said.
For Beasley, participating in the project has been a joy. She was proud to see younger generations getting involved to make a difference for their community, she said.
“I’m very proud of them and what they do. I’m very honored to be a part of it,” Beasley said.
It was amazing to watch the students grow as they went through the process. At first they weren’t sure where to go, but in the end they got it sorted, Kress said.
“At the end of the day, their hearts are absolutely amazing and they wanted to do a lot of good in Johnson County. It’s so cool to see them go through this process,” she said.