Doug Bolton helped build Hands on Newton into a community-changing volunteer organization, which has reshaped Newton County by cleaning it up, building needed playgrounds and gardens and breaking down societal barriers to connect and educate the county’s diverse populations.
Bolton recently announced that he will step down as the organization’s director in October, after more than two years at the helm. Hands on Newton started as an offshoot of Hands of Georgia in early 2007, and the then-retired Bolton, growing bored of retirement accepted the director position in August 2007.
During those two years, the organization has joined willing volunteers with needy project organizers to complete several large community projects, including building the Mary Beth Malcolm playground at the intersection of Stone Road and Ga. Highway 142, clearing Chimney Park and building, planting and harvesting community gardens, like the one at Turner Lake Complex.
But the most meaningful project for Bolton was one of the first: the January 2008 cleanup of Graves Chapel Cemetery, located near U.S. 278. The old slave cemetery was established around 1800 when slaves from the Graves Plantation were buried in the lot, Bolton said. The cleanup was planned as a way to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day and create connections between the 125 volunteers of all different ages, races and income levels.
"In 19 degree weather in January we had 125 people come out to help and clean up. It was a very diverse group of people. Then Chairman Roy Varner, Dr. Steve Whately, a lot of students, people from African-American community, some who had relatives buried there. Some of the older people there provided historical perspective and gave a talk about what that cemetery meant and the history of race relations in Covington," Bolton said. "It really helped to bring together a group of people who wouldn’t normally have done things together. It opened a line of communication and a lot of dialogue that had been there before, but hadn’t been used much."
Bolton enjoyed making that kind of difference in the community, and he noticed a difference in himself.
"It’s the old adage that it’s better to give than to receive. I had a friend who talked a lot about trying to do something big in Newton County… and I said it’s not the building that matters, it’s the people who do the work and how they grow as a result," Bolton said.
Bolton said he’s retiring in October because he felt it was time for him and organization to go in different directions. What started as a part-time position has grown into a full-time as the organization has experienced tremendous growth. Bolton said that growth should only continue.
"I see only bigger and better things in the future. I see Hands On continuing to involve more and more volunteers… volunteerism in Newton County has increased because of Hands of Newton," Bolton said.
The volunteering spirit won’t leave Bolton anytime soon, because he’s planning to devote much of his time, after he leaves in October, to bringing the Miracle League Field to Newton County. The Miracle League provides opportunities for every child to play baseball, regardless of their disabilities or limitations. Bolton has already been working on the project, but he knows a lot more effort is needed to raise $2 million in this economic climate.
Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey said it will be an honor to have Bolton more involved in the Miracle League project.
"It’s a privilege and an honor to have Doug involved. He’s taken the project to heart and will definitely help spearhead the project and get it rolling quicker. I look forward to working with him, as does the rest of the board," Hailey said.
Bolton said he’s working on one last large project at Hands on Newton, which he hopes to be able to announce in the near future. Mollie Melvin, the director of The Learning Center, has been hired on a part-time basis to help with the transition between Bolton and whoever the Hands on Newton Board of Directors selects as a replacement.
When asked if he would spend more of his free time on recreational activities, Bolton said only time would tell.
"Last time I retired, I got bored after two or three weeks," Bolton said with a laugh.