You can accomplish a lot in 50 hours. But not what Mia Ruck had in mind.
Ruck could have achieved her Girl Scouts Gold Award with a 50-hour service project. To her, though, the hours were of little consequence.
“It was over the summer and into the school year,” she said of the project. “I fundraised by myself and coordinated with the school. It didn’t feel like a huge commitment. I had so much fun doing it.”
Ruck, a 17-year-old from Kenilworth, designed and built a public prayer garden at her high school, Woodlands Academy in Lake Forest, as a respite for anyone who could use one.
The heavy workload didn’t bother Ruck. She believed what she was doing was worth it.
“Mental health is a cause very close to my heart,” she said. “I’ve seen so many friends and family members deal with mental issues. It’s become a topic you can talk about.”
Thanks to national wellness campaigns and resources, as well as celebrities like Adele and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson speaking out on the issue, mental health discussions and awareness are more commonplace than ever before.
Still, however, suicide remains the second-leading cause of death among teenagers, and it is a growing problem, according to the CDC.
One of the charm’s of Woodlands Academy is its size. Charming and comforting, the school features only a couple hallways so students and staff are constantly among one another.
There was no designated area where students or staff could go to take a break, if only for a short time. And during a time of such uncertainty and strife, Ruck considered that a necessity.
“I didn’t feel there was a space for meditation and relaxation to combat mental health stressors,” she said. “I felt I needed to create a space for that.”
The outdoor garden is tucked next to an open nature area on the school’s grounds.
Nestled against a white-boarded fence is a rectangular rock garden, about the size of a dinner table. A white two-person bench is at one end with the prairie outstretched before it. A step outside the garden is a mailbox, where guests can leave and read messages.
Within the rocks is a colored pattern. Made up of bright pastels, the rocks were individually painted by Ruck and some classmates. A feature that took the most time, she said.
The garden is a welcome addition to Woodlands, according to Dr. Meg Kincaid, the school’s psychologist.
“(Ruck) saw her project through to completion, overcoming obstacles, and persisting to achieve her goal,” Kincaid said in a press release. “Her creation reflects Mia’s beliefs in the importance of promoting mental health and the beneficial impact that nature and prayer can have on our well-being.”
Just making the garden had a positive impact on Ruck’s mental health.
Not only did she build something she is proud of, but also she got to do it with one of her favorite people.
Ruck’s grandfather, Ben Crow, actually flew up from South Carolina for two weeks to help his granddaughter with the project.
Crow helped with the landscaping and wouldn’t let Ruck mix the concrete.
“That’s like his favorite thing,” she said with a laugh.
Their hard work, adding up to 120 labor hours, already has at least one fan.
A couple days after the garden was finished, Ruck opened the mailbox to find a note. It was from a resident of Lake Forest, who wrote how much she appreciated the space and how much it will mean to her family that lives nearby.
“I absolutely love it,” Ruck said. “It turned out more amazing than I ever thought it could. It makes me really happy how it positively affects everyone. I am so glad I was able to do it.”