Updated 1/5/17, 12:26 p.m.: An earlier version of this article omitted the Geckofest Street Festival on September 2 as one of the sources of money for the GMA grants.
Each year, the Gulfport Merchants Association (GMA) awards a portion of its proceeds from “Gecko” events held in the late summer to non-profit organizations that are based in Gulfport or include Gulfport in their service area. Two organizations that applied earlier in the year will receive grants funded by a portion of the proceeds from 2017 events: the Art Gecko Show on August 5, the Gecko Crawl on August 12, the Gecko Ball on August 26 and the Geckofest Street Festival September 2.
“This is the fourth year of formalizing the process for the Community Support Grants,” says Scott Linde, president of the GMA. “We had nine worthy organizations apply this year, which made for a very difficult choice.”
One of the two recipients chosen is Creative Play Preschool, located at 2624 54th St. S., adjacent to the Gulfport Presbyterian Church, which will use grant funding to create an “Edible Schoolyard” program.
“I want to embrace hands-on learning that focuses on the children and a learning style that fits with how they perceive their world, interests and community,” says Kya McMahon, owner, director and teacher at Creative Play. “The Edible Schoolyard program will be a big part of this process. We currently have an edible garden with lettuce, kale, tomatoes and other produce that the children helped plant and care for.”
The new project will be an extension of the current garden out back behind the school, but with a bigger scope.
“We plan to fund a mini-food forest in conjunction with Crea Romanelli from the Gulfport Food Forest,” says Jessica Sager, administrator at Creative Play. “The garden will be called the GMA Edible Schoolyard Program and will be in an enclosed area in front of the school but accessible to the community.”
The small, intimate setting of the school allows the staff to develop such programs, says McMahon, tailored to the needs of the students, aged three to five. McMahon and her staff of two other teachers offer cooking, music programs and the creation of a butterfly garden in addition to academics and other educational topics. Once a month, a representative from Boyd Hill Nature Preserve brings a different animal to the classroom for study and a hands-on learning experience.
“We’ve had snakes, an owl, a tarantula and an eagle,” McMahon says. “The children especially enjoyed the eagle. Feeling the wings was an experience they won’t forget.”
According to Linde, “The reason we chose Creative Play as one of the recipients was the nature of the project. The school works with children and learning but, most importantly, it is local and community-based. They are doing wonderful things collaboratively within the community.”
When the children return to school the first week of January, the focus will be on planets – and moving forward with the garden.
“The children really enjoy learning here,” says McMahon. “And we feel so supported by the community for what we are trying to do.”