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Dozens of young people volunteer for Vandergrift Street-a-Week program

| Friday, June 21, 2013, 12:26 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
From left, Lillian Gibbon, 8, Emily Orris, 12, and Kyle Orris, 15, are joined by Dario Marsili, 16, all of Vandergrift, in clearing out weeds and mulching around trees on Grant Avenue in Vandergrift as part of the Vandergrift Improvement Program's borough cleanup initiative on Thursday, June 20, 2013.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Trey Gibson, 16, of Vandergrift sweeps along the borough parking lot on Columbia Avenue as part of the cleanup for the Vandergrift Improvement Project on Thursday, June 20, 2013.

More than 30 Vandergrift youths manicured Grant and Columbia avenues on Thursday afternoon to inaugurate the Vandergrift Improvement Program's summer-long Street-a-Week project.

The nine-week project, which was conceived weeks ago by program board member Joe Hesketh, is designed to visually rejuvenate the borough's parks and main areas with the help of young volunteers. The nonprofit organization has recruited 42 youths thus far to sweep streets, clean garbage, paint and landscape throughout the borough for three hours each week.

Hesketh, 21, said the group specifically targeted Grant Avenue on Thursday to welcome PA Hero Walk participants, who will conclude today's march at the street's American Legion post. The annual fundraiser benefits the Wounded Warrior Project with a 13-day, 320-mile trek, which began in Philadelphia and will conclude Saturday at the Lower Burrell VFW Post 92.

Which areas the Vandergrift Improvement Program will refurbish in the coming weeks is undetermined, according to Hesketh. The program is working closely with the borough, however, to ensure the focus is directed toward the most appropriate streets and venues. The students are working every Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The project's first workday was rescheduled to Thursday because of rain Tuesday afternoon. Hesketh, who also serves as a youth pastor and owns a digital design and technical solutions business, said he was “touched” to see about 25 youths arrive to work Tuesday despite the thunderstorm.

“I had to call it off, but we had a lot of kids show up,” he said. “They walked here in the torrential rain and didn't care about the thunder. That just shows you how committed they are to what we're trying to do for the community and that they're in it for the right reasons.”

Vandergrift Area Park and Pool, one of the project's sponsors, is enticing youth participation with free pool passes. Hesketh also will raffle off an iPad at an end-of-the-summer party. Project participants will receive one raffle ticket per hour of work.

Project coordinator Joe Clark, 20, said that despite the incentives, he believes the volunteers are participating solely for community improvement.

“I know that the people involved in this project take a great deal of pride from it,” the Washington Township resident said. “They have a lot of pride in their community, and I think that translates into a tighter sense of unity. That will pour over into the community in its entirety, so we're not just improving the community's image. It's something deeper than that.”

For Vandergrift Council President Brian Carricato, that deeper purpose can be found on the borough's budget balance sheet. With what he estimates to be 85 percent of Vandergrift's $2 million annual budget spent on fixed costs (labor, health care, transportation), the borough can't appropriate a “desirable amount” for maintenance.

The money saved by the volunteers in labor costs alone, Carricato said, helps the borough direct its resources to other areas.

“The average person doesn't pay attention to the work a governing body puts into balancing a budget,” he said. “They see the tall weeds and the exposed dirt.

“Anytime an organization works to pull people together and help out with the community's scenery, it's an enormous help and takes a lot of pressure off the council. Groups like these are very valuable and tremendously appreciated.”

The Street-a-Week project also is supported by Donghia Lumber Co., Sweetlane Chocolate Shop and Stanford Home Centers.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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