Powell Digs Deep to Construct Community Walking Trail
In coordination with the Recognition and Rewards Committee of the ECU Staff Senate, the Pieces of Eight series honoring exceptional ECU staff recognizes Carita Powell.
By Judy Currin
One sure way to get the neighbors’ attention is to start digging in their backyards. That’s what Carita Powell hoped would happen when she began work on the labyrinth walking trail adjacent to the New Wynn Chapel Church Life Center in Bethel last fall.
“The walking trail was constructed to offer families in the community a venue for physical activity and fellowship,” said Powell, coordinator for after-school programs with the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute.
While the after-school program is primarily funded by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, additional funds for the program were provided through a grant from Be Active North Carolina, the state’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of physical activity and wellness.
“These funds provided pedometers, jump ropes, a portion of salaries for student mentors and supplies for construction of the walking trail at New Wynn,” said Robin Tutor, education and outreach program director for NCAI. The physical project for the Bethel School after-school program was a written requirement for the 3-year grant.
A 2008 ECU graduate with a bachelor of fine arts in theatre arts, Powell began her association with NCAI in the fall of 2007, as a member of New Wynn Chapel Church and a volunteer with the church-based after-school program in Bethel.
In January 2008 she was hired by NCAI as the coordinator and manager of Students Lead the Way/Growing Up Fit, a collaborative community partnership committed to developing sustainable programming to help children achieve and maintain a healthy weight. By July, plans for the physical project were under discussion.
“I noticed that many of the children that I worked with and their families enjoyed spending time out of doors,” Powell said. “I began to wonder how I could bring families and members of the community together through some type of physical activity that would draw them outside.” The children weren’t interested in gardening or really even getting dirty. “Then I thought about creating a labyrinth walking trail,” Powell said.
“A lot of people would shy away from such an arduous task,” said Tutor. “But Carita’s hidden talents include certification to operate a forklift, and the ability to organize and lead a small manual work force.”
By October, after obtaining permission from the church and sharing a detailed draft of her plans for the walking trail, Powell began construction. She went to work on a brisk and sunny Saturday morning accompanied by three volunteer church members.
“I would work ten to 12 hours a day with a shovel, hammer, wheelbarrow and a garden rake,” she said. “I rented my own equipment to pick up and pour gravel and sand.” The volunteers, while dedicated, joined Powell after leaving their day jobs.
“There were days I worked alone and began to feel pangs of defeat,” Powell said. “But slowly the neighbors started inquiring about the mess I was making in their back yards and wanted to talk to me.” Maybe it was the afternoon she drove up on the forklift.
Before long, they would wait for Powell to show up, and one by one would hammer a nail, dig a hole, or throw some dirt. Relationships were built and friends made. Within a few months, the trail was completed and equipped with workout stations along the way.
“On Dec. 18, 2008 with my pastor, students, staff, mentors, families and friends we took an illuminated walk to bless the opening of the trail for the Bethel community,” Powell said.
The trail, aptly named Bridging the Gap, A Community for Change Walking Trail, is marked by a sign that “bears the hand prints of all the volunteers who inspired me to make a difference in one small community,” Powell said.
“Carita’s position with the NCAI will end with the close of the BCBS grant the first week in May,” said Tutor. “She has worked tirelessly with the public schools and church-based after-school programs located in rural areas of Pitt County to promote and conduct physical activities for the school children.”