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Westmoreland

Seton Hill social work students get hands-on experience in Monessen

Jacob Tierney
| Sunday, April 2, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
From left, Breanna Myers, Kylie Kern, Daniella Koluder, Laura Schmitt and David Droppa speak with commnuity members during a community action planning meeting at Monessen Civic Center in Monessen, Pa. on Saturday April 01, 2017.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
From left, Breanna Myers, Kylie Kern, Daniella Koluder, Laura Schmitt and David Droppa speak with commnuity members during a community action planning meeting at Monessen Civic Center in Monessen, Pa. on Saturday April 01, 2017.
Seton Hill students and volunteers speak with members of the Monessen community to organize a weekend volunteer work to help the city during a community action planning meeting at the Monessen Civic Center in Monessen, Pa. on Saturday April 01, 2017.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Seton Hill students and volunteers speak with members of the Monessen community to organize a weekend volunteer work to help the city during a community action planning meeting at the Monessen Civic Center in Monessen, Pa. on Saturday April 01, 2017.
Seton Hill professor David Droppa speaks with community members during a community action planning meeting setup by a group of his students at the Monessen Civic Center in Monessen, Pa. on Saturday April 01, 2017.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Seton Hill professor David Droppa speaks with community members during a community action planning meeting setup by a group of his students at the Monessen Civic Center in Monessen, Pa. on Saturday April 01, 2017.
Seton Hill student Breanna Myers speaks during a community action planning meeting at the Monessen Civic Center in Monessen, Pa. on Saturday April 01, 2017.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Seton Hill student Breanna Myers speaks during a community action planning meeting at the Monessen Civic Center in Monessen, Pa. on Saturday April 01, 2017.

When a group of social work students at Seton Hill University were looking for a class project, they were warned that working in Monessen would be especially challenging, said professor David Droppa.

“My students said, ‘that's all the more reason to reach out,'” Droppa said.

The students met with a handful of Monessen residents Saturday to get ideas.

Droppa has his classes design and manage their own projects. The theories behind social work aren't much good without practice, he said.

“Social work needs to be hands-on,” he said.

Monessen Mayor Louis Mavrakis said the city will take all the help it can get.

“We can't seem to get any help from the federal government and the state,” he said.

Monessen had 20,000 residents in its heyday, but its population collapsed with the steel industry, Mavrakis said. The city is now down to a population of about 7,500, with plenty of boarded-up buildings along once-busy streets.

The students earlier spent some time touring the city and asking residents for their suggestions. Some of these recommendations, such as rebuilding the city's economy, were unfeasible.

“I would love to be able to bring jobs in, but unfortunately that's not something that we as college students would be able to do,” student Breanna Myers said.

Other ideas were more realistic. The students focused on a suggestion to clean up the litter on the streets.

As the group started discussing a garbage-cleanup weekend, Mavrakis pointed out a problem: litter comes back.

“You clean up today, three weeks from now the garbage is going to be back,” he said.

Other residents suggested working with local churches to create an “adopt a street” program, so that parishioners could maintain clean streets after the students leave.

Resident Gregory Davis had another suggestion — planting flowers and other greenery to brighten things up.

“We could use a lot of beautification in the city,” he said.

The group agreed on a plan. On April 22 students and locals will work together to clean litter off the streets. Numerous Seton Hill student organizations have agreed to help out, and students from Westmoreland County Community College might participate as well, Myers said. The event could draw as many as 100 student volunteers, she said.

The next day, the volunteers will plant perennial flowers in key areas of the city.

The class will talk to church leaders and other locals to try to establish programs to continue their efforts after the project is over, according to student Christian Iozza.

“I believe we do have to get community leaders involved, because we're only here one time and when we're gone we're gone, but our goal as a class is to make sure whatever we do sticks,” he said.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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