When she started, it was a cubicle. Four walls, a table, some chairs and an outdated TV cart made up the dingy space.
The children’s area at Omaha’s Heartland Hope Mission food pantry, volunteer Abbey Dyer says, was subpar.
“That just broke my heart,” Dyer said. “I really wanted to change the atmosphere so children can go there to learn, play, have fun and make friends while their parents get the help that they need.”
Dyer, a Girl Scout for 12 years who then was a sophomore at Millard South High School, was searching for a project for a Gold Award — the highest achievement in Girl Scouts. She reached out to Heartland Hope’s volunteer coordinator, Amanda DeVries, asking if she could revamp the play area, free of charge.
“I was ecstatic,” DeVries said. “Our kids’ area has been a burden on my heart. We had come up with some ideas, but with the business of our staff, it was never a feasible thing for us to do.
“When Abbey reached out to me, it was like a godsend. It was an answered prayer.”
The Hope Zone was born.
To earn her Gold Award, Dyer first had to have her idea approved by the local Girl Scout Council. That included a written proposal, as well as an interview with a panel.
When her project was approved, Dyer began her six-month, 105-hour journey, starting Oct. 5.
Lynn Dougherty, Dyer’s troop leader, said she was not at all surprised that Dyer wanted to go for the gold.
“Nothing is a problem for Abbey,” Dougherty said. “She’s just a can-do type of girl. We’re hitting about 132 service projects since Abbey was a kindergartner, and I would say she’s probably only missed about five in all those years.”
Dyer applied the same attitude to this project, but first she needed money. Dougherty suggested that Dyer hold a silent auction. Simultaneously, Dougherty and the other Girl Scouts would run a bingo night to bring people in.
Dyer asked 24 businesses to donate items to the auction. She also applied for Modern Woodmen of America’s fund-matching program, which agreed to match the auction earnings up to $500.
Dyer next headed to Kelly’s Carpet in Omaha. There, she was given an amount to spend on a custom-made piece of carpet.
In the end, Dyer was able to purchase plenty of toys, books, a children’s computer and a new TV that could be mounted on the wall.
Dyer also wanted to spruce up the space with some artwork. She contacted Bennington artist Dori Settles, and together they decided on a mural with an “under the sea” theme.
Though the project was overseen by Dyer, she said the people who donated their time and resources are the main reason it was possible.
“When I needed people the most, they were there for me,” Dyer said. “It really shows that when you begin to give to others, they see that, and they open themselves up to you.”
Dyer found out in mid-July that she had earned her Gold Award.
DeVries said the project has made a difference at Heartland Hope, which is at 2021 U St.
“It’s just been more peaceful,” DeVries said. “Now the children have activities that they can engage in. It’s helpful to the parents, the kids and our staff. It’s been a blessing.”