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Build it Up to beautiful Governor’s Mansion

By By Autumn D. F. Hopkins
Staff writer
Teens from Build It Up West Virginia and volunteers from WVSU help children plant raised beds on campus during a recent Urban Ag conference. Their new skills will be usedful when they work to beautify the Governor’s Mansion on Saturday.
Teens from the Build It Up program (in the white shirts) L-R Marleah Knights, Trystan Lively and Brianna Hairston help Hanna Cavendar, WVSU graduate student and children plant raised beds on WVSU’s campus during the Urban Ag conference.
Teens from the Build It Up program and volunteers from the WVSU extension service help children plant raised beds on WVSU’s Institute campus during a recent Urban Ag Conference.The teens will use these same skills to help beautify the Governor’s Mansion on Saturday.

In just a few days, a group of local teens will join dozens of volunteers as they swarm the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion as part of West Virginia State University Cares Day... a chance to put their green thumbs to the test and work on their newly-honed gardening skills in a prestigious setting.

“We are excited that West Virginia State University has chosen the Governor’s Mansion as a location for Cares Day activities,” said First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin. “It is wonderful to see so many young people from throughout our communities who are excited to offer their time and talents to help beautify the mansion grounds.”

The volunteers include teens from the Build it Up program, designed for at-risk students, and members of the Black Diamond Girl Scout Counsel’s troop 2285.

The First Lady isn’t the only one excited.

WVSU extension agent Jenny Totten gleefully spoke of the growing children’s programs she has been nurturing since her days as a VISTA volunteer.

“Build it Up West Virginia is a Youth Development Leadership program,” she said. “We take the kids who are most likely to stay in their communities, who may be labeled ‘at-risk,’ the kids who want to do better but may not know how. We challenge them to make improvement in their communities. Whether that is creating new economic ventures based on things like farming, or making community gardens, or creating murals in their home town. The kids decide what they want to do and through Build it Up their dreams become reality.”

Totten is helping coordinating the venture for WVSU, which is heavily partnered with Build it Up and the Girl Scouts. Totten also still acts as a mentor for Build it Up where she helps guide and organize the teens.

“It is great to watch these girls act in a multi-generational kind of gardening mentor-ship,” Totten explained.

Although Build It Up is open to both boys and girls, all of the youth currently involved in the program are female, she said.

“Build it Up West Virginia helped build the Girl Scout garden in Elkview last year. Now they’re mentoring these girls in bigger projects. So we’ve got kids ranging in age from four to 18 that will be working together to better their communities and take ownership of their futures.”

The kids will be specifically focusing on the circle in front of the Governor’s Mansion and the containers around the property.

Different areas will be planted by other WVSU Cares Day volunteers including faculty and college students.

Totten said WVSU Cares Day is open to the public.

“We have volunteers from the college and the girls but if someone shows up we’ll hand them a trowel and some gloves. Or they can just come and watch — that’s fine too,” she joked.

“One way or another we’ll get the work done!”

The kids from Build it Up West Virginia won’t stop at the Governor’s Mansion though. Their next endeavor is to restore and rebuild the arbors at the Carrol Terrace community garden in Charleston’s East End. The garden is in its 10th year and is starting to show some wear and tear.

The Build It Up program is primarily funded through private donations, although some of the teens have successfully written small grants as part of learning to run a small business, Totten said.

The WVSU extension service is partnering with Build It Up in applying for some larger grant monies, which would allow the teens to branch out into bigger projects like community stores and other business ventures.

If you would like to help, be a part of Build It Up, or know a teen who would benefit from the program, contact program administrators via or visit them at the Governor’s Mansion this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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