Local News

Nature and nurture

SEBRING - What do you get when you put the president of the Friends of the Highlands Hammock together with a board member and longtime volunteer of the Boys & Girls Club? That would be community power-couple Mike and Vicki Jarvis. The owners of Frames and Images on Circle Park Drive in downtown Sebring love getting involved with worthy local groups. Mike, who was born and raised in Sebring and a graduate of Sebring High School, grew up with friends like Schools Superintendent Wally Cox and Highlands County Commissioner Ron Handley. This is his first year as president of Friends of Highlands Hammock, a volunteer organization that raises money to maintain and beautify Highlands Hammock State Park. Their efforts help to ensure visitors can enjoy the unique wildlife and habitats in comfortable, well-maintained surroundings. “The state of Florida does not have enough financial capability to support the park,” stated Mike. Last year, Friends donated $84,000 to the park for improvements, including weed eaters, lawn mowers, and machinery repair. They provided the free WiFi available to campers, sponsor the Music in the Park series, and started the memorial plaque program.
“People can donate $50 to get a plaque put on a handrail or on a bench for $200,” explained Mike. Frames and Images provides the design and labor for the plaques free of charge. The Boys and Girls Club, which is close to Vicki’s heart, helps provide opportunities for underprivileged children in the community. “The mission of the Boys and Girls Club is to enable all kids to reach their potential and become caring and responsible citizens,” said Vicki, who has been on the board for two years and has served as president for one year. “I've always had a soft spot in my heart for underprivileged kids,” stated the Ohio native who has lived in Sebring since 1985. “I love it. I get to watch kids smile quite a lot.” The club’s after-school tutoring initiative and other programs have helped kids who were failing in school turn their grades around and kids who were shy overcome their fears, said Vicki. She also said the program helps kids to get out from under the stigma that they cannot and will not succeed. “The kids also think that,” said Vicki knowingly. “We try to abolish that. We try to encourage the kids to study hard and better their lives.” Now, Mike and Vicki have the unique opportunity to bring their two organizations together in the form of a Boys & Girls Club summer camp to be held in conjunction with Highlands Hammock State Park. The program is in the final stages of organization, thanks to Brian Pinson, assistant manager of the park, said the Jarvises. One hundred to 150 kids will take part, learning cooking and life skills as well as getting educated about the park in smaller groups of 20 or so. These avid volunteers have both been involved with the Highlands County Red Cross, the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life. Mike is also on the board of directors of the Emergency Food and Shelter program. “We like giving back to our community. We like giving awareness to our community of what is out there,” said Vicki. Mike, a flooring expert, said his first volunteer job was putting in flooring for a halfway house for the Children’s Services Council. The folks working alongside him were all doing it as mandated community service, but he did the work in exchange for a cell phone battery. It felt good, Mike remarked. Since then he has done work at a reduced rate for the Children’s Advocacy Center and the Circle Theatre. He installed tile murals at the advocacy center as well as Cracker Trail Elementary. This busy couple invites others in the community to share in the great feeling of using one’s time for the betterment of others and the community at large. Many people want to help kids, but don’t know how, said Vicki, who noted that the Boys & Girls Club needs adult volunteers to help run their Emporium, a thrift store located on Circle Park Drive that will be moving to a larger location at 248 Pomegranate Ave. If they can’t help out with their time, they can make a donation or buy something from the Emporium, including the very popular all-natural laundry soap made by the kids in the program. Highlands Hammock Park needs volunteers in the CCC museum and help clearing and maintaining the trails, said Mike. Friends of Highlands Hammock also runs a citizen support organization, Mike added. It costs $30 for a family membership and includes 12 free passes to the park, which is a $72 value, he said. Members get 12 more passes each year they renew. “All the money stays in the park,” Mike explained. For more information about the Boys & Girls Club, call 863-658-1042. To reach Mike with Friends of Highlands Hammock, call 382-6094 or call the ranger station for other volunteer opportunities at 386-6094.