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Students transform man's jungle into manicured garden

When a 73-year-old homeowner finds keeping up his yard a difficult task, students at Adams Middle School summer camp spend a few days lending a helping hand.

By JOE HUMPHREY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 25, 2000


FOREST HILLS -- The grass grew knee-high, vines engulfed the sky-blue house and the metal mailbox tipped toward the ground.

Homeowner Donn Fought, 73, is recovering from prostate cancer and an April car accident. He's still coping with the loss of his wife, who died of a stroke in December 1998. Combined, the problems made it difficult for the part-time videographer to maintain his house on West Bougainvillea Avenue.

So the neighbors showed up this week to help. More than 25 students from nearby Adams Middle School spent Thursday and Friday sprucing up Fought's yard, raking leaves, trimming shrubs, mowing the grass and planting new flowers.

"We fixed it up, and it started to look really good," said Donald Hamilton, a seventh-grader who frequently rides past the house. "To tell you the truth, I've always wanted to do this."

Hamilton is part of Adams' summer enrichment program, a daily camp that allows students to go on field trips and participate in activities such as the annual community service project. Gayle Phelan runs the summer program and was one of several teachers supervising students Friday morning in Fought's front yard.

"If you could have seen it," Phelan said. "It was a jungle."

Fought worked his way through the yard Friday, clutching a video camera to document the charity. He works part-time at the Florida Mental Health Institute and has adapted as the craft of videography has changed through the years. A co-worker at FMHI suggested this project; her daughter is among the program's participants.

Rachel O'Connor, 10, is a rising sixth-grader. As she and others planted a new hibiscus, she mashed dirt into the ground and around the bush by jumping on it. Her blonde ponytail danced as she bounced around the plant. Later, she stood out front as a garbage truck passed the house, its workers gazing at the 20-plus trash bags and the pile of palm fronds.

"It a garbage truck's nightmare," she announced to Phelan.

And quite the opposite for Fought: "I think it's wonderful."

* * *

- Contact Joe Humphrey at 226-3403 or humphrey@sptimes.com.

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