Lowndes County residents spark change in their communities

Published 10:47 pm Monday, May 8, 2023

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Three Lowndes County residents are being recognized by the non-profit group Rensselaerville Institute which is based in New York. Nickels Rankins, Sherry Bradley, and Tonya Simmons will each receive up to $3,000 each to use for programs they hope will make their communities better.

The Rensselaerville Institute’s Community Sparkplug Initiative is awarding the money to community “spark plugs”. Institute spokeswoman, LaTisha Wilson said recipients are called spark plugs because they are igniting change among different communities in Lowndes County. 

“We have over 50 years of effective experience in engaging communities to achieve results that matter to them. The results-focused projects undertaken by volunteer community spark plugs bring immediate results to the community and build increased community capacity, confidence, and energy,” Wilson stated.

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Each recipient applied for the awards in August, and since then, each has also raised money from their communities supporting each project. Wilson said Rankins, Bradley, and Simmons also trained to make sure they are prepared to complete each community project.

Parent Tonya Simmons said she is working on a program that will benefit Fort Deposit Elementary School and surrounding neighborhoods.

“We are creating an outdoor learning area for the students and staff. This area will give teachers quality coaching to support learning outdoors,” Simmons said. “With the use of computers and television ever increasing in popularity, many kids no longer want to go outside to talk with their friends or to play. This will allow them that space to do that.”

Simmons said she is excited about the project.  

“This area will be a flexible learning space that the children can enjoy. I hope it will inspire more imagination among the children. It will support learning while outdoors, and teachers can incorporate as much information about nature as possible in the lessons they will teach,” she added.

Wilson said that Lowndes County Schools Athletic Director Nickels Rankins plans to use the award on the system’s intramural track and field program. Wilson said Rankins plans to remove the costs associated with track and field allowing more students to participate. Bradley, who is the executive director of the Black Belt Unincorporated Waste Water Project, will receive an award Wilson said will be used to educate youth in the Black Belt about wastewater systems and ways to positively impact communities.

Two other out-of-state recipients will receive awards during a May 26 event scheduled to be held at The Calhoun School Library.

For more information about the Rensselaerville Institute, you may visit their website at www.rinstitute.org.