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Giving back to community the focus of Thurtene for two student groups

At this year's Thurtene Carnival, members of two Greek organizations will be participating with a higher end goal in mind: to build a playground for students at an elementary school in north St. Louis, thanks in part to Engineering student Ellee Mullard.

Farragut Elementary School playground

Mullard, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, is helping to lead the project, along with a committee, to raise at least $15,000 for a new playground at Farragut Elementary School in The Ville neighborhood. As a member of Kappa Delta sorority, she helped to bring her sorority and Beta Theta Pi fraternity into the project. Instead of spending thousands of dollars to build a façade for Thurtene Carnival, the members of Kappa Delta and Beta Theta Pi decided to do community outreach instead. Together, they are working to raise funds through a GoFundMe campaign, through grants, and through donations of supplies and materials.

The student-managed Thurtene Carnival is one of the university's longest-running traditions, held each year since 1907.

Last fall, Mullard, who also is pursuing minors in architecture and in energy engineering, participated in the Alberti Program, a Saturday afternoon program led by Gay Lorberbaum, senior lecturer in architecture, through the Sam Fox School that provides a hands-on, problem-solving workshop about architecture, community and the environment for fourth- through ninth-grade students in area schools. Mullard worked with girls in sixth grade — some from Farragut School — and as she got to know them, she became very interested in how she could help more.

"I asked Gay what we could do to get involved in the community because she has a lot of experience," said Mullard, who is the Thurtene design and outreach chair for Kappa Delta. "She said that Farragut was definitely a school that could use a lot of help."

In 2012, the playground at Farragut was burned to the ground. The basketball court has poles, but no hoops or nets, so at recess, Farragut's students play kickball, foursquare or hopscotch on the blacktop. Adults in the neighborhood play kickball there on weekends, as well.

"We wanted to make sure that what we did would benefit the community, not just the kids during recess, but also for after school, on weekends, during the summer, and the greater community surrounding the school," Mullard said. "Farragut does have tutoring on Saturdays, and hopefully kids would want to go if there was a playground for recess."

Mullard is volunteering with the Alberti program this semester. Recently, the teaching assistants and volunteers asked the students to build their dream playground using simple materials. Mullard said the children asked for basketball hoops and swings.

In addition to the playground, Mullard says members of the two Greek organizations are seeking funding and/or materials to build an outdoor classroom, a community garden, paint murals and add a fresh coat of paint to the inside of the school. In addition to the GoFundMe campaign, the groups are applying for grants through the Gephardt Institute, the St. Louis Rams, which offers grants to build playgrounds, and for materials and supplies from Home Depot.

The groups would like to have the playground completed before Thurtene Carnival begins April 17. They are choosing a contractor to build the playground.

"We have about 300 students between Kappa Delta and Beta Theta Pi who are ready to go to work, so we have plenty of manpower," Mullard says. "And everyone's really excited about it. They want to come to see the school and do as much as they can. We have the support of the school, but now we just need to get enough money to help these kids."