By Leslie Williams Johnson

From left, Aundria Douglas, Sierra Middleton and Elizabeth McLochlin.

When Mount Vernon Presbyterian School challenged students to “make a dent” with positive-impact projects through its Capstone initiative, a group of four juniors and one senior started with a very grand vision.

“Originally we were thinking about building our own park, but we realized we don’t have millions of dollars or a couple of years,” said Sierra Middleton, now a rising senior at Mount Vernon and an intern for Reporter Newspapers, who worked with group members Lizzie McLochlin, Anna Shuford, Aundria Douglas and Lavender Zhang.

After spotting the Morgan Falls Overlook Park dog area, with its field of grass, surrounding fence and dividing fence within, they decided the space could use some sprucing up.

And so a new, more feasible project to benefit canines and their humans in Sandy Springs was born.

“Our idea is to have an area with agility obstacles, some A-line ramps, tire tunnels, add in some benches, add in some dog house-type structures, and we’re going to be adding in bushes, trees and flower beds toward the entrance,” Middleton said.

The group researched the cost of all the materials needed, coming up with $1,500. “That includes everything in our plan. We’re also planning on building a couple of the things,” she said. Mark Sluzky, a Mount Vernon teacher, served as a mentor for the Capstone project, and was on the panel that heard the group’s pitch about improving the dog park.

“I felt it was a project that was scaled correctly and could be implemented,” Sluzky said, via email correspondence. “I was excited that they were looking into the community and identifying an area of need. “

“Overcoming adversity and making formal presentations were two of the biggest takeaways for the team,” Sluzky said. “They had to pivot several times to keep their project viable, and made several high-stakes presentations to city and business leaders to earn approval for their project.”

The city of Sandy Springs liked the students’ idea and urged the group to talk to the company from which it leases the land, Georgia Power. It, too, gave their plans the nod.

The team has turned to the crowd sourcing site indiegogo.com, drumming up $250 of the $500 it seeks through the fundraising effort. In addition, the students plan to sell banners to companies who want to advertise inside the park.

“Our project, unlike many, is not a direct contributor to the entire world but rather our world in Sandy Springs, Georgia,” the students wrote under “the impact” description on indiegogo.

Residents have wanted upgrades for some time, the group stated, “and we are finally taking action and doing what they want.”

The campaign on indiegogo was slated to end on June 9.

The students, who received high honors on the project, would like to finish the improvements by the end of June.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s definitely going to be worth it because we’re making a difference in our community,” Middleton said. “It’s been a good experience to interact with the city of Sandy Springs, and gives real-world experience that will take us really far.”