COLUMBIA — Youth from The Intersection, a local after-school program, proudly pat the ground as they cover their newly planted tulip bulbs.
The bulbs, which are expected to bloom in the spring, will not only bloom as flowers, but as a symbol of their young planters' promise.
Plant the Promise is a new drug and alcohol awareness project involving Columbia's youth. The 1,300 red tulips that children will plant around the community during the next few weeks will symbolize each child's promise to be drug and alcohol free. The Plant the Promise project hopes to teach children about making smart choices while also beautifying Columbia.
Youth Community Coalition and City of Columbia Office of Volunteer Services brought Plant the Promise to Columbia in hopes to "reach out to the youth, provide them with the opportunity to gain physical activity and to beautify central Columbia," said Leigh Britt, city volunteer coordinator.
"An example of why this project is so great is the Boys and Girls Club," she said. "They are planting the bulbs in front of their building and will be able to watch the flowers bloom and take pride in where they meet."
Bulbs will be planted at about 42 different sites throughout the city, including more than half in central Columbia. The project identifies central Columbia as being the part of the community surrounding the intersection of Providence Road and Worley Street.
Various groups and organizations are scheduled to plant the bulbs around Columbia, including middle schools, youth groups and after-school programs such as The Intersection and the Boys and Girls Club. Ages of participants range from 5 to 17. A majority are between 12 and 14.
"This is the first time that this project has been done here, and so far, it's been great. We have had a terrific response from people wanting to be apart of it. It's going to be a really fun project for people," said Becky Markt, Youth Community Coalition coordinator.
The program provides the gardening equipment to groups if necessary. The city's Volunteer Services budget provided funding for the tulips. The total cost of the bulbs and shipping was approximately $450. The Youth Community Coalition also gives participants red bags filled with treats, including a small red toy shovel and matching wristband — both with "Plant the Project" marked on them.
Aside from the toys and dirty hands, Plant the Promise hopes Columbia's youth take away much more.
"What I want them to take away from this is that they are important and that the choices that they make today can impact their life later on," Markt said. "By planting their promise, they're making a promise to themselves that they are going to choose wisely."