By Shellie Smitley | Staff Writer
Augusta University’s President and First Lady acknowledged staff as they opened their home to employees and their families for the first annual Spring Fling and Easter Egg Hunt on March 26.
Steven Harrington, mechanical core, said he attended the event with his wife, son and his grandchildren. He said in 18 years of being employed with the university this is the first time he has ever been invited to an employee event. Keel approached him, shook his hand, introduced himself and asked him what department he works in.
“I think it is a beautiful event to put on for the employees,” Harrington said. “I never met (Keel) before.”
President Brooks Keel and his wife Tammie Schalue both agree that the Spring Fling idea came from her.
“Of course it is Easter and that gorgeous back yard that we have,” Schalue said. “I had a vision seeing several hundred children out there, just looking for Easter eggs.”
The event included egg hunts for different age groups, cake, drinks, face-painting, music, an egg-drop game, photographs with the Easter Bunny, balloons and bags of candy for the kids. Roary, the mascot for the Children’s Hospital of Georgia, and Augustus, the university’s mascot, both attended the event. Keel and Schalue donated $50 Toys R Us gift certificates and awarded them to one child from each age group who found presidential golden eggs. Another golden egg in each category was good for a basket full of “Jag swag.” Harrington’s granddaughter found both of the golden eggs in her age group.
Keel said he wanted to have the opportunity to thank staff for all the the hard work they do, especially all of the staff that would never have the chance to come to the President’s house.
“We gave out 600 tickets, we figured that is about the most we could handle here for the first year, (and) we will do that and see how it goes,” Keel said. “I am sure we will get a chance to meet a lot of staff that we have never met before and that is another reason (to put on the event).”
He said that past presidents have traditionally done events at the house and Christmas receptions for managers and above, but he and his wife decided not to do that this year. The Easter egg hunt gave them the chance to touch those employees who are below manager level.
Schalue said the event is a great way to say thank you to employees who often do not get recognized.
“Janitors and groundskeepers do such a hard job,” Schalue said. “Both of those jobs are hard jobs, they do a lot of hard work in sometimes not pleasant weather and often times they are the group that is not thought of …and I think sometimes they get left out.”
She said hosting the event at Twin Gables rather than on campus said “thank you” in a meaningful way.
“This is our home, our private residence, but it is not our home, this is the campus’s home, the university’s home, so it is everyone’s who is associated with the university, their house too,” Schalue said.
She said Keel jokes that living at Twin Gables is a lot like living in the best public housing there is.
Keel said 5000 pre-filled eggs were purchased and that volunteers from the university’s basketball teams and the cheerleading squad hid them around the yard.
“Sunny Bunny is a company that all they do is make these eggs. They employ handicapped people …That’s what they do, they stuff their eggs all year long for egg hunts,” Schalue said. “They were a price point that was perfect for us, it was a good cause to help them and it was from my home state, so it was like a triple win.”
Alisa Townley is a cellular and molecular biology student who volunteered for the event through the Lumin Society. She helped pass out the 1000 bags of candy that were prepared for the children attending the event.
“I thought it would be a lot of fun,” Townley said. “We really like our president so we want to help out whatever events he has.”
Keel said he expects to host future events for employees, but that is not all that they have to look forward to.
“We have the opportunity with the budget when it gets passed to give pay increase, a merit increase,” Keel said. “We are certainly looking at that. We are also looking at ways to try to help the lowest of the paid employees, try to bring them up and we are looking at plans to do that. It will take a year to two to phase that in.”
Contact Shellie Smitley at: firstname.lastname@example.org.