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Born Learning Trail dedicated for late philanthropist Nalley
Scott Justus puts up one of the signs with suggested activities Saturday along the Born Learning Trail. - photo by Tom Reed

What does 4-year-old Lindsay White like to do when she’s playing outside?

She likes to jump. Specifically, she likes to play hopscotch.

Seven-year-old Lauren White, on the other hand, likes to play with water balloons. Her favorite? The blue ones.

Water balloons would have been helpful as the heat blared through Gainesville on Saturday morning at Wilshire Trails Park. The United Way of Hall County was there to install a new Born Learning Trail in honor of late benefactor J. Cleon Nalley.

The city of Gainesville Park & Recreation Department, Friends of the Library, Sterling on the Lake Homeowners Association, INK and the Young Leaders Society also teamed up with the United Way to make Saturday’s event possible.

The Born Learning Trail program helps parents, grandparents and caregivers find ways to make every day moments into learning opportunities for children. The trail is now officially open to the public, and free of charge.

"Children love to play and run and jump," said Jackie Wallace, the president and chief professional officer of the United Way of Hall County. "A child may love to skip, but he or she could also learn how to count by counting how many times they skip. We’re hoping the parents will take advantage of these trails."

Planning for the installation of the Born Learning Trails began early this year. The Young Leaders Society was approached to take part in the manual labor.

"We chose to take part in this event because we wanted a day where young leaders could get out and get involved in the community," said Jess Givens, a member of the Young Leaders Society and the volunteer committee. "We wanted something that was hands-on that we could all get out and do, and this was recommended to us."

Givens said the installation of the trails will be a good thing. "It’s something that children can come out to and read the signs and have a learning opportunity," Givens said.

Members of the Young Leaders Society installed the signs and painted images on the sidewalk for kids, such as a friendly-looking frog and hopscotch squares. The signs offer gentle instructions, such as, "Watch, learn, stop, play ... let your child lead the way."

The signs also include "try this" suggestions, such as "Watch what your child likes to do. Is it playing with other children, looking at bugs or heading for the slide? Do the things your child likes to do." Then there are "trail tips," such as "When you follow a child’s lead, curiosity and confidence grow."

The installation of the signs is a reminder that kids should get outside to learn and play rather than stay indoors all summer.

"I think that it’s good for kids to play outside because you’re not going to be able to meet new friends if you isolate yourself indoors," said Rachel Yarger, a 15-year-old student at Gainesville High School.

Givens said that it’s important for children to be active outdoors and Wallace agrees.

"Anyone in the health field will tell you that children need exercise," Wallace said. "Having the opportunity to get outside and play and enjoy the outdoors will stimulate children’s thoughts and brain activities. If children are healthier, they learn better, and if they exercise, they will be healthier."

At noon, everyone involved in the event met at Wilshire Trails Park for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration cookout with members of the Nalley family.

In fall 2007, United Way of Hall County became the beneficiary of the estate of J. Cleon Nalley, a Gainesville attorney who died earlier that year. The proceeds helped establish the J. Cleon Nalley Fund for Educational Enhancement. A portion of the annual income will be used for projects or programs that provide educational enhancement opportunities to the community.

In February, the United Way board approved the purchase of Born Learning Trails for that purpose.

"Cleon loved education," said Gainesville City Councilman Danny Dunagan, a nephew of Nalley. "He loved children, so that’s why we decided to set up the Educational Enhancement Fund in his name to further what he loves."

Dunagan said that Nalley would be very happy with Saturday’s events.

Stanley Dunagan, another of Nalley’s nephews, said that helping young people "shapes our society for the future."

Teaching young children things on a daily basis can "help their attitudes and work habits later on in life," said Dunagan, who plans on bringing his family back to the trail. "You never quit learning and kids have a lot to learn over the years."

The Rev. Dr. T. Richard Davis, a former next-door neighbor of Nalley’s, also decided to come to the ceremony.

"I have such great respect for Cleon’s values, and I am impressed by the imagination that the volunteers have to create this for children so they can learn and grow," he said.

Davis said that children can learn by being outdoors.

"They can evaluate their surroundings by looking at them and knowing what they mean."

Davis said that taking the time to help children learn while being outside will be the responsibility of the parent.

"Doing this will fulfill the hopes and dreams and imagination of Cleon Nalley."

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