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Message campaign for new year will help McKeesport get the word out

Vertullo | Daily News
McKeesport's message committee members Annette James, the Rev. Earlene Coleman and Mayor Michael Cherepko review banner designs for messages that will be displayed throughout the city. Jennifer R.

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By Jennifer R. Vertullo
Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

McKeesport is demanding respect in its continued effort to curb crime and violence on a community level.

In hope of changing the urban culture of violence from within, Mayor Michael Cherepko's Select Committee on Crime and Violence formed a subcommittee to introduce quarterly messages in a wide-sweeping campaign expected to instill pride among city residents.

“When we talk about building a better McKeesport, it's about building morale within the community,” Cherepko explained. “It's about people buying into it, being active and taking ownership of their community.”

Beginning this month, the message of respect will resound from city hall, churches and schools. It will be an underlying theme at all events in town.

And throughout the year, McKeesport's Message Committee will introduce the concepts of dignity, hope and love.

“What's going to be so beneficial and eye-opening to kids is that they are seeing the same messages in school and in their community,” the mayor said. “They're seeing this everywhere, and that's going to play such a key part in all of this.”

With the same core values of respect, dignity, hope and love being rooted in school, at home and in extracurricular activities, committee members said the only option is success.

“This is a great bite if we get everybody connected,” said the Rev. Earlene Coleman of Bethlehem Baptist Church and the Noah's Ark Community Center. “If we include the entire community, that's when it will be great.”

With McKeesport being territorial, Coleman explained, residents may not embrace a concept if they feel left out of the plan.

“If you don't do something in my neighborhood or my territory, it doesn't belong to me,” she said. “If we do this in every school or every program with every child, we didn't leave anyone out.”

Cherepko said the city is covering all bases and reaching out to everyone with neighborhood initiatives, social services and school programs.

“We have so many entities buying into this — from the city to businesses to all of the nonprofits, task forces, organizations, agencies and schools,” Cherepko said. “It's everybody.”

McKeesport police Chief Bryan J. Washowich said he is appreciative of the Mayor's Select Committee on Crime and Violence for encouraging the whole community.

“Crime and violence cannot be cured by police actions alone,” Washowich said. “Communities need to work together to educate and remind our youth that we all care about their futures and the decisions that affect their lives.”

The message of respect is intended to encourage positive behaviors and attitudes — something committee member Jim Barry witnessed in 2012 at LaRosa Boys & Girls Club.

As LaRosa's newly appointed director, Barry introduced a “Respect This House” theme at the McKeesport club where he played as a kid and served as board president for years.

“We reinforce it every week,” Barry said. “Respecting this house — it means respecting the staff and respecting each other. It means taking ownership of your house.”

Since the message was introduced, there haven't been problems with graffiti or trash at the facility.

“You can't even go to the next steps until you establish respect,” Barry explained. “It's the tenant that holds everything together.”

Cherepko added that respect must be established within city limits before McKeesport can be embraced by the region as a whole.

“If you want people outside the city to respect it, then the people of McKeesport have to respect their city,” Cherepko said.

The message of respect will be introduced to council during the mayor's report at Wednesday's meeting, with both the workshop and voting session set for the same night because of the New Year's holiday.

Shortly thereafter, banners and yard signs will start appearing around town.

Strung above several intersections will be 30-foot banners that relay the messages of respect, dignity, hope and love. Smaller signs will be available to residents and business owners.

“Anybody who wants one and is willing to display it – we will give them one,” the mayor said. “No matter where you go in the community, you will see them.”

Council and the public are encouraged to participate in a kickoff event, scheduled for Jan. 16 at 4 p.m. in the parking lot of city hall, 500 Fifth Ave. Committee members will share their thoughts on the message of respect, and the Salvation Army will serve hot chocolate to attendees.

Committee member the Rev. Darrell Knopp, who retired at 2012's end as pastor of McKeesport Presbyterian Church, said the kickoff will bring McKeesporters downtown to give the message strength at its core.

“The message is important to the heart of the city and its people, because we are McKeesport,” Knopp said. “Respect has got to be our first message, because we need to learn to respect ourselves, which will enable us then to respect one another and a city as a whole.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or

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