Published on 09/25/19

Hospital stay compels 4-H’er to create meaningful project

By Sharon Dowdy

Candler County 4-H member Gracie Grimes turned a hospital stay into a project that brought her community together for a common cause, taught her leadership skills and earned her Master 4-H'er status.

In May 2018, when Grimes was hospitalized for kidney stones, the idea for her project came to her.

“When I was in the hospital last year, the pediatric unit offered me a coloring book, but they didn’t have colored pencils, which are my favorites. Coloring, to me and many others, is a tremendous stress reliever,” said Grimes, a 10th-grade student at Metter High School in Metter, Georgia. 

Through her project – called “Leading and Encouraging A More Colorful Life” – Grimes set out to help replenish the hospital’s art supplies. She collected art supplies, created an original coloring book, and colored words of encouragement to donate to hospitals and other community organizations that serve youths and adults during hard times.

“The artists for the coloring book were local artists who reached out and wanted to help with my project,” she said. “When I started the words of encouragement, I asked local artist Jody Kemp to draw them.”

Words of encouragement are just that – encouraging words illustrated by local artists and colored by volunteers who helped with Grimes’ project. These volunteer artists included students in the after-school program at Metter Elementary School, at Metter Primitive Baptist Church, in Screven County’s art classes, at Camp Hillview Teen Retreat, and participants in the Leading and Encouraging a More Colorful Life event that Grimes organized. Georgia 4-H’ers who attended the annual Fall Forum event at Rock Eagle 4-H Center also colored words of encouragement for Grimes’ project.

“When I delivered the donated items to Memorial Hospital, there was a woman in the waiting room. Her child was staying at Memorial Hospital and she wanted to know what we were doing,” Grimes said. “After I explained my service project to her and how it started, she began to cry. This has stayed with me throughout the entire project because it allowed me to see how much of an impact this project had on other people.”

Due to the overwhelming response from the artists, Grimes was able to create several different versions of the coloring book and to replenish art supplies not only at the local hospital, but to donate art supplies to victims of child abuse at The Sunshine House, underprivileged children at the University of Georgia Wesley Foundation, children at St. Louis Children’s Hospital — including Candler County lung transplant recipient Amy Blackburn — the Boys and Girls Club of Metter and victims of violence at the Safe Haven Shelter.

“The shelter’s task force used one of the words of encouragement to represent their domestic violence task force. They also decorated their building in Statesboro with the words of encouragement. It was really impactful to see that while my project had a huge impact on the children receiving the coloring books and supplies, it had a tremendous effect on the adults as well.”

Grimes’ project came full circle last April when she was hospitalized again at Memorial Pediatric Unit — this time for gallbladder surgery. When she asked for colored pencils, she was given a box that was donated through her project.

“When the child life specialist handed them to me, I started tearing up and told her that I was the girl who had donated them. She automatically started telling me how grateful they were for them and how they had never really received such a huge donation,” Grimes said. “This showed me just how much my project had grown since I first started it and how it ultimately came full circle.”

To date, Leading and Encouraging a More Colorful Life has donated 700 boxes of colored pencils, 400 original coloring books and 350 laminated words of encouragement.

Grimes’ project was part of Georgia 4-H’s Leadership in Action program, which recognizes Junior and Senior level 4-H’ers for leading issue or need-based projects in their communities.

The student develops a plan to make a difference and through the process develops leadership skills. Grimes was one of only eight Georgia 4-H’ers who advanced to the state level and one of two 4-H’ers to earn master status.

“I was able to put together what I hope is not only a coloring book but an inspirational book for many kids,” Grimes said. “My hope is to help every kid lead a more colorful life.”

To learn more about the Georgia 4-H program, go to

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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