“The best part of this program is the time spent with them, listening to the stories they tell while we are working for them,” Howell said.
There is a second-best part.
“They bring us lemonade, almost always,” he said. “Sometimes they bring out sweet tea, but usually lemonade.”
In the garden
Howell and fellow Checotah FFA students have also worked hard on a community garden. McPeak applied for and the Checotah FFA received a grant from Farmers Feeding the World and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. This grant provided necessary funding to develop raised-bed gardens and buy seed and plants. It has provided more than 1,200 pounds of produce for the members of the Checotah Senior Citizens Organization.
FFA members demonstrated to Checotah elementary students how to plant and raise vegetables.
Then the seeds were placed in the FFA greenhouse and allowed to grow.
The ground was prepared and soil added, then Checotah FFA members helped the students pre-K through second grade plant the fruits and vegetables.
Howell, working through in-kind contributions from his tribe, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, maintained the garden throughout the summer, delivering fruits and vegetables to the seniors three times per week. The seniors who are unable to garden for themselves due to their age are enthusiastic to have homegrown vegetables provided for their consumption.
After graduating from high school, Howell plans to attend Oklahoma State University and study biology. He said would like to go on to either be a pediatrician or a psychiatrist.
McPeak has accompanied his student to Washington, D.C.
“Mr. McPeak is an example of community service in himself and inspires me to be a service-oriented citizen,” Howell said.
McPeak is confident that Howell will not only be a success, but also will continue to give back to others.
“Ridge on top of being extremely intelligent has a great deal of common sense because he grew up in a very agriculture-oriented background so he was exposed to a lot of stuff early on in life,” McPeak said. “He's been around the old farmers, and old ranchers and the old cowboys we've got here in Checotah, Oklahoma. He's sat down at the coffee shop with them since he was little. So, he's picked up on a lot. He's just well-rounded.”
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I have learned so many valuable life lessons from (senior citizens') knowledge and wisdom, beyond what I could ever learn in a classroom setting.”