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Pride in the past
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Volunteers from a multitude of backgrounds descended upon the Graves Chapel Cemetery on Monday to give the historic landmark a much needed facelift.

The event was organized by Hands on Newton, an organization which has taken on many projects in its four months of existence.

"The purpose of this operation is to match organizations in need with volunteers," said Doug Bolton, director of Hands on Newton. "This county is rich with citizens who want to give back. We are blessed to have so many residents who want to help others."

The organization is an offshoot of Hands on Georgia, which gave the Newton branch a $10,000 grant to make a difference in the community. So far Bolton has been able to establish a relationship with a variety of organizations within the community including Habitat for Humanity, Oxford College of Emory University and Georgia Perimeter College as well as several churches.

At Hands on Newton's inception, Bolton set the group's first year goal at 100 events with 1,000 volunteers. With only a quarter of the year passed, Bolton is well on his way with between 500 and 600 volunteers having already participated in the 15 events.

Between a 125 and 150 volunteers from a variety of backgrounds participated in Monday's cemetery cleanup.

"We were trying to cross as many divides as we could," Bolton said. "It was a multiracial, multicultural and multigenerational event."

The cemetery was established around 1800 when slaves from the Graves Plantation were buried in the lot, Bolton said. The clean up was planned as a way to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day while also giving back to the community.

"It is not only important to clean up the cemetery, but also to, in the process, bring the community together while also educating students," Bolton said.

During the morning, volunteers helped clear away years of wild plant growth including several trees and bushes. After the cleanup, lunch was served and the volunteers were split into smalls groups. Several historians and special speakers then mingled between the groups and lectured about the site's history as well as MLK day.

About 80 percent of the cleanup was completed, Bolton said, and a follow-up cleanup day will soon be scheduled for late February. Bolton is also currently organizing the cleanup of a small park on Clark Street.

Anyone interested in volunteering for these or any other projects is asked to call Bolton at (770)330-7405.