Mural project helps reintegrate juvenile offenders
In the first of what organizers hope will be many more such events, the Community Arts & Reintegration Project for Westmoreland County will hold a "Paint Day" for a mural on the side of a Mt. Pleasant building from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 21.
Community members are welcome to join project coordinators, Boy Scouts, and juvenile offenders in creating the mural at the American Architectural Salvage Building , 23 W. Main St.
"It would be great to see the entire Mt. Pleasant community join in the mural painting," says Tim Holler, project director and assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.
"This is a paint-by-number process, so anyone can participate, no matter what their level of artistic ability," he says.
Music and refreshments will be provided, Holler adds, "to keep us in the painting spirit."
"From what I've heard, we are going to have a pretty good turnout," he says.
Nine juveniles from the Westmoreland County Juvenile Probation department are expected to participate as part of their required community service hours.
A means of reintegrating juvenile probationers back into the community, the paint day is the culmination of several years of planning.
It is based on a similar program in Philadelphia, in which former inmates are provided temporary jobs producing murals.
Restorative justice, Holler says in a preliminary project report, is becoming more common within the criminal justice system as an alternative to incarceration.
More support has been found in Westmoreland County, he says, for a juvenile offender, rather than adult, mural painting program.
Westmoreland County Community College art history professor Bernie Wilke developed the design from ideas contributed through public meetings.
The mural will be mounted on wood, on the side of the building facing the Coal & Coke Trail. It features aspects of Mt. Pleasant and its history, including the well-known Doughboy which greets Main Street motorists, a salute to the town's glass manufacturing industry, the annual Mt. Pleasant Glass Festival, bicyclists, a train and beehive coal ovens.
Holler says the building along the bike trail is a perfect spot for the first mural.
"It's easily visible from lots of places in Mt. Pleasant," he says.
Community is common denominator
The project is a way for incarcerated individuals to re-enter their communities, Holler says.
"If we want to truly let people have a stake in their community and be good citizens, we have to show them that we care about them," he says.
He's also hopeful for a drop in recidivism rates, as Philadelphia has seen among its mural projects' participants, Holler says.
Community volunteers will include Michael Diehl. A member of Boy Scout Troop 478 in Greensburg, he is helping with the mural as his Eagle Scout project.
According to Holler, Diehl will organize volunteers to assist with cutting and priming the wood backdrop for the mural. Additional Scouts are expected to assist with installing the wood and painting the mural's parachute cloth panels.
"Anyone can just show up. Pick up a cup with a number on it and fill in that section," Holler says.
"Depending on how many people show up, we hope to complete or get close to completion in one day," he says.
Initial funding sources include the Richard King Mellon/Community Foundation of Westmoreland County Impact Fund, affiliated with the Pittsburgh Foundation; the McKinney Charitable Foundation, through the PNC Charitable Trusts; Westmoreland Community Action; and the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg Center for Applied Research.
Holler hopes to see more victim advocates and, eventually, victims, participate in future planned mural projects throughout the county.
"I'm eying up New Kensington as the next area," he says.
The next project will depend on available buildings and funding, Holler adds.
Area residents benefit from the beautification aspect of the mural, which is expected to last 20 to 30 years, he says.
Those who participate can take pride in contributing to their community.
"They can say, 'I was a part of that,'" Holler says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MaryPickels.