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Jerusa Myakundi ,15, and Yaritza Montiel, 14, from Cooper High School helped build a new fence line with tamarack posts at the Oliver Kelley Farm.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Discoveries on the Oliver Kelley Farm

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY
  • Star Tribune
  • May 22, 2012 - 10:23 PM

For nearly three hours, Paj Lor summoned all the strength in her 100-pound body to help install posts twice her weight into three-foot-deep holes. The wood scratches covering the 5-foot-tall Robbinsdale High School junior were her badge of honor. The tools she acquired to get this far were her reward.

Paj, 17, wasn't just erecting a fence at the historic Oliver H. Kelley Farm in Elk River. She was building a foundation. Paj was one of 100 Robbinsdale Cooper students working with 100 Honeywell volunteers who donated a total of 1,200 hours of labor last week to enhance a national landmark -- and break ground for a future generation.

"It's hard work -- work like I've never done before -- and it's service work," said Paj, who was named the school's outstanding student for her community work.

"This is an environment you don't see every day. I'm not just talking about this farm or the type of work we're doing. It's the opportunity to give back, to work with these Honeywell volunteers. Just by being here and volunteering their time and sweat, they've taught us a big lesson."

Working with Rebuilding Together Twin Cities, which has been revitalizing homes and communities in the metro area since 1997, the students and Honeywell volunteers erected a Tamarack fence, created to replicate the kind of fencing that was common 150 years ago. They installed wire fencing, needed to regulate animals. They built and painted 40 picnic tables.

But this was no picnic for some of the students, who, with this project, met their school's year-long goal of 10,000 community hours.

"Some of these kids are operating a drill for the first time," said Paul Orzeske, president of Honeywell Building Solutions. "They're learning. And we get to see them learning. What these kids are doing today is remarkable."

Their achievements stretched far beyond the fences they were building.

"I'm making a difference," said Tytiana Reid, 16, a Cooper sophomore who hopes one day to earn a degree in psychology. She was among the students building picnic tables.

"Sometimes, the drill gets stuck. If you touch the screw right after you drill, it's hot enough to burn you. But I don't mind. I see these Honeywell volunteers here and I'm getting the message. This is more than a field trip away from school."

The Oliver Kelley Farm is a National Historic Landmark and something of an urban treasure in the metro area, but one that many of the Cooper students didn't know existed before last Thursday's day of volunteer work. Honeywell volunteers have been donating their services to the farm for years, said Bob Quist, the farm's site manager.

"These young kids catch on fast," said Vern Draxler, 75, a retired Honeywell employee. "We're building fences and picnic tables. They're building character."

Talayiah Howard, 17, a Cooper junior, was placing dirt into holes with new fence posts. It was her first time at the Kelley Farm, but, she said, won't be the last time she rolls up her sleeves and gets her hands dirty.

"It's hard work, but I think it's appreciated," she said during lunch. "And those posts aren't that heavy. Well, maybe I'm kind of tired. But it's a good tired."

Dejiree Anderson, 16, a 10th grader who wants to become a medical assistant, said the day at the farm taught her about patience. Varsity basketball player Joe Gillespie, 17, a junior, after three hours of planting fence posts, emphasized the "rhythm and flow" of working as a team.

"Teamwork is the key," said Wes Flah, 17, a Cooper junior and aspiring music producer.

He had the grueling task of planting 200-pound fence posts. He couldn't contain a smile he hopes one day "will save the world."

"You work hard for your community," he said. "You meet new people. You do something positive. You dream big. What's better than that?"

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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