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Kindness Park dedicated to love and acceptance

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The Kindness Park, on the corner of 13th and Poplar streets, was dedicated Oct. 1 by Benton City Clerk/Treasurer Bethany Cooper, Mayor Rita Dotson and Jessica Scillion, office manager at Benton Gas Company.

The idea for the Kindness Park resulted from a May 2018 meeting of the Mural Committee making plans to place murals throughout Benton. Hallie Riley, then a senior at Marshall County High School, attended the meeting with her mother Jill, Susan Guess, founder of the Anti-Bullying Foundation in Paducah, and local artist Kija Housman, owner of MAKE in Paducah.

Hallie told the committee she had been a victim of bullying and had started a Kindness Club at the high school with the goal of bringing happiness, acceptance and love to others. She asked that a kindness mural be considered.

County high school students were given the opportunity to submit artwork for consideration in the mural project. Many entered their pieces, but Bella Barrett’s drawing titled, “Kindness Hands” was chosen. Everyone who participated in the drawing and painting of the final piece have signed the mural that is in the center of the park.

In July 2018, after choosing the mural location, the committee began to discuss turning the lot into a park. The city had recently purchased the lot, but there were no immediate plans for its use. However, there were still many obstacles to overcome.

Hallie began working to find local businesses that would donate their talent and make financial donations toward bringing the park to life. Many community members also donated resources, time, talent and ideas.

The Mural Committee met with Maggie Morgan who worked for the Jackson Purchase Resource Conservation and Development Foundation in March 2019. The foundation’s mission is natural conservation and community development. Morgan suggested the idea of a butterfly garden, the native plants that would be needed, and butterfly house designs. Committee members agreed on the idea, and Morgan put the committee in contact with Dava Hayden, a horticulturalist at the Arboretum at Murray State University. Hayden had a student, Elisa Abbot, who needed a year-end project, and Abbot presented a layout of the garden with the details of what was necessary to build and maintain it.

A grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which Morgan secured, was used to purchase all the plants. The water department ran water and set a meter for the irrigation system, Benton Gas did trench work and Benton Electric set an electric pole. The city maintenance department built the mural wall, hung the mural and did all the concrete work. Paul Howard donated his time to run the irrigation system. Derek Riley of Riley Electric (and also Hallie’s dad) installed the lights for the mural. Shane Darnall and the MCHS shop class built the butterfly houses. Jill and Derek Riley (Hallie’s parents) painted the butterfly houses. Rogue Graphics made and donated two educational signs. Color Bazaar donated paint. Lowe’s, located on the Southside of Paducah, donated rocks that were painted for the garden.

The committee was also awarded the 2019 Kentucky Waste Tire Crumb Rubber/Tire-Derived Products Grant of more than $3,000. With that funding, they were able to purchase four 6-foot benches, one 8-foot table and one 8-foot wheelchair-accessible picnic table. The tables and benches are made from 100% recycled plastic and rubber and were assembled by city maintenance employees.

Those who donated financially include, the late Joe Tom Haltom, Joe Riley, Draffen Floor, Healthy Smiles Family Dental Care, Remax Real Estate, Peel & Holland and Travis Construction.

Near the end of the ceremony, Cooper recognized Ryan and Will Morgan, the husband and son of the late Maggie Morgan. She asked that Will help present a plaque in the butterfly garden that was dedicated to Morgan, who died before the park was completed. Butterflies were then released in her memory and recognition of her contribution.

Mayor Dotson presented a large plaque that had been donated by the family of the late Donnie “Birddog” Duke. Dotson cited Duke as “the very definition of kindness. “

Cooper stated, “I have had a heart for this project the entire time and am so grateful that I was able to be a part of it and see it through. I’m thankful for all the donors and volunteers that have helped make it a reality.”

Dotson said, “We’re so proud of this park and why it exists. It promotes kindness and we really need that. It’s unique because high school students came up with the idea.”

The mission of the Kindness Park is to give a safe place for friends and family to gather and promote love and acceptance.