Instead of just sitting on park benches, enjoying the scenery, 10 Roanoke women — all of whom have experienced the half century mark, including three who are less than a decade from reaching their centennial birthdays — recycled plastic to get more benches.
The 10 women are members of the Roanoke chapter of the Greater Federation of Woman’s Clubs, and they recently dedicated two park benches in Roanoke and one in Salem after concluding their largest community service project in several years.
Learning of a recycling exchange project for nonprofit organizations by Trex Co., a decking and fencing company, club members decided in mid-2018 to try to collect 500 pounds of plastic in exchange for a Trex park bench.
Over six months, club members collected more than 1,500 pounds of plastic: grocery bags, bread bags, dry-cleaning bags, newspaper sleeves, bubble wrap and other clean and dry plastic wraps.
Club President Carol Guilliams-Mills and her husband, Forrest Mills, gave up half of the two-car garage at their Southwest Roanoke home to store pallets of plastic.
Each 500 pounds of plastic meant a bench, and the club earned three benches within a six-month span. Members decided to place two benches at the club’s meeting site, Mountain View Recreation Center, and the third at the VA Medical Center in Salem.
The Roanoke Department of Parks and Recreation helped the club with the Mountain View dedication, which also included recognizing services of Shelby Hamlett, a former Roanoker who served on the Roanoke and Virginia chapters and as the 2000-02 GFWC international president.
The Roanoke Woman’s Club was formed in 1906 as the Civic Betterment League. During the 1950s, the club moved its meeting site to Mountain View, then the home of the Junius B. Fishburn family, at 714 13th St. S.W.
He was a prominent publisher, banker and philanthropist, and his wife was one of the club’s first presidents. In 1955, Fishburn donated his home to the city of Roanoke, stipulating that it would be solely used for public recreation purposes.
The Woman’s Club of Roanoke continues to meet there and has helped furnish the home, with the benches and a piano being its latest donations.
Over the years, the club, which once had more than 300 members, according to Guilliams-Mills, has been instrumental in establishing libraries, parks and playgrounds, and maintaining Camp Easter Seal East and West.
It also has provided money for blacktopping playgrounds and purchasing equipment and supplies for nursery schools and community youth programs.
When club members learned that Trex had sponsored a project for nonprofit organizations to get park benches, they decided to it take it on as a community beautification project.
According to Guilliams-Mills, members were surprised at the effort it took to collect 500 pounds of clean and dry plastic, the least amount required for a Trex park bench.
The Trex recycling initiative is not new in the Roanoke Valley. North Cross and Clearbrook Elementary schools participated in the company’s school recycling challenge last year.
Members of the Woman’s Club of Roanoke solicited help from friends and businesses, including Better Wood, Grand Interiors and Food Lion.
The load of plastic eventually was taken from Guilliams-Mills’ garage to the Food Lion near Tanglewood Mall, to be weighed, documented and sent to a Trex recycling center.
About a month later, a large box arrived at the Guilliams-Mills home. Forrest Mills assembled the benches, two of which are placed on the front porch of Mountain View.