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Mothers, sons bond with service work on outdoor classroom for housing authority
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Michael Golden, 14, works on a porch Saturday for an outdoor classroom at Gainesville public housing to benefit at-risk kids. The outdoor classroom and garden were built by volunteers. - photo by ERIN 0. SMITH

Mother-son bonding Saturday required two-by-fours, power tools and an early jump on the morning.

High schoolers and mothers from the Alpharetta chapter of the Young Men’s Service League spent Saturday morning building an outdoor classroom in Gainesville. Known as the Ultimate Gift, chapters take on a service project often intended for those less fortunate.

This year, the group decided to build a classroom and plant a community garden for the Gainesville Housing Authority on Davis Street.

“It’s amazing, really,” Housing Authority office manager Lynne Bell said. “This has been a vision for a while, and it’s amazing to see what they’ve done.”

Brenda Last, coordinator for the Ultimate Gift project, said about 100 volunteers participated throughout the day, split between three different shifts. For Last, whose 15-year-old son Taylor worked on the classroom’s deck, it’s a chance to bond.

“We go out and watch their sports, but we don’t participate,” Last said, “This is something we can do together.”

Each equipped with an electric drill, teenagers surrounded each new board after being sized, moving rapidly to secure the classroom deck. After working with contractors for a three-hour shift, the kids picked up the skills quickly.

“Being out here and watching the kids work and enjoy it, it’s awesome,” contractor Joey Libasci said. “I wish more kids would do this.”

Mums, muscadines, spinach, radishes and more filled the garden, a key instructional tool for the Innovation Station. Along with worship service and guitar lessons, the center also teaches kids about gardening.

“We’re hoping just to build and expand our programs and curriculum on healthy living,” Gainesville Housing Authority executive director Beth Brown.

Preparing homegrown food, such as salsa from garden-grown tomatoes, teaches the kids about making healthy choices, Brown said. In addition, it’s a source of nearby fresh vegetables.

“As for as grocery stores, there’s not much in walking distance that I know of,” Brown said.

The classroom is a project outside of the scope for the Alpharetta-based service group, Last said. It’s an opportunity to collaborate on something that builds character.

“For me, this is something we can do together, and it’s special,” Last said. “It teaches the boys empathy. It teaches them a lot of things.”