project makeover photo alex sargent
Photography by Alex Sargent

When the students of Gainesville’s Metcalfe Elementary left school for the weekend Friday afternoon, most of the school’s walls and sidewalks were just bare concrete. But when they came back Monday morning, the white cinder blocks and grey slabs had been transformed to scenes of swimming alligators and portraits of famous musicians.

At 5 p.m. Friday, over 1,200 volunteers from Project Makeover began a three-day project to overhaul Metcalfe Elementary. Volunteers painted murals, did landscape work and installed new playground equipment on the school’s campus.

Katie Burns, the executive director of the project, said the goal of the project is to get students more involved in school activities “All of the detriments of our country can be boiled down to our education system,” she said. “If we can inspire a love of learning through Project Makeover, and we can create a more dynamic learning environment, then we can hopefully change their outlook.”

According to Burns, the project features three primary components: murals, landscaping and a Dream Project, which varies from year to year. This year’s theme was Play, so volunteers installed new playground equipment and built a Ga-Ga pit, which Burns describes as “basically dodge ball from the waist down. It’s really fun and the kids get really excited.”

According to Ali Kassam, the project’s communications manager, Project Makeover has worked with an underprivileged school every year since 2008. Schools that Project Makeover has previously renovated include Idylwild, Williams and Rawlings Elementary.

Kassam said that he first became involved with Project Makeover during his freshman year. When he saw the excitement on the students’ faces during the project’s reveal the following Monday, he said that he decided to become even more involved.

“It’s great to be a part of something that affects more than just our campus,” he said.

Project Makeover’s volunteers came from organizations ranging from fraternities and sororities to Honors Ambassadors and UF Navy ROTC. Additionally, with Student Government elections occurring this week, both Swamp Party and Access Party sent volunteers.

“Swamp Party is committed to giving back to the community,” said Robbie Cusmano, a third-year law student and head campaign manager for Swamp. “If you aren’t connecting to the community, then really what’s the point?”

Many volunteers said that the reason they chose to volunteer with Project Makeover was because they wanted to help children enjoy their time at school.

“For me, it’s from the heart,” said Luke Waldron, a sophomore political science student at UF. “It’s just about doing whatever I can, small or large, to make a positive difference and help others to have the same opportunities I had.”