When we engage in acts of generosity and kindness, everyone involved gets an emotional boost — a shot of love, straight to the heart. Cherokee Recreation and Parks Agency, based in Woodstock, Georgia, demonstrates this concept quarterly, and as it happens, just in time for the loving-est time of year. “As part of our mission to improve the quality of life for Cherokee County citizens, we offer four distinct community outreach programs throughout the year, each benefiting a different segment of our population,” explains Director Brian Reynolds. In winter, Cherokee hosts Adopt a Senior, which benefits senior residents in need during the holidays. Around Easter time, Somebunny Special benefits underprivileged children. As the leaves turn in fall, Pay it Fur-Ward supports the local animal shelter. “We were looking for something that would be original and something that we could gear toward individuals with special needs,” Reynolds continues. “The idea of Project Valentine just fit the bill.” Project Valentine involves the collection of small items, like Chap Stick, lotion, sticky notes, pens, markers, art or music activities and candy (sugar-free and regular), from the public. “We accept anything that will fit in our bags and make that day special for our recipients,” says Lindsey Collett, receptionist and registrar at Cherokee. “Our staff and volunteers assemble the bags and deliver them to partner organizations in the community.” This year, local beneficiaries include Next Step Ministries, Eagle Point and the Cherokee Training Center, all of which serve residents with special needs. Project Valentine has been winning hearts since its inception in 2010 — “Our partners and the recipients are always very appreciative of the community’s efforts to make them feel special,” Collett adds. Loving the community it serves, to paraphrase the late Minnie Riperton, is easy because Cherokee puts people, regardless of their level of ability or socioeconomic status, first. “While we offer a wide range of leisure opportunities — from youth athletics to aquatics, outdoor recreation and more — we also look for opportunities to reach out into the community and give back in other ways,” Reynolds says. “These programs build a strong sense of community throughout the county and make Cherokee a better place to live, work and play!”
Samantha Bartram is Executive Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine.