Painting over graffiti probably wasn’t what any of the troubled teens wanted to do on a Saturday morning, but nobody seemed to complain when the crew pulled up to a derelict city-owned house at the dead end of Bridge Street shortly before noon.
The two-story brick structure sat next to a footpath into some brush and far enough from neighbors that vandals seemed to unabashedly cover it with gang tags and expletives. The group of about a dozen took to the building with paint brushes and rollers, quickly obscuring the graffiti probably about as fast as it was spray painted on the building.
Within 15 minutes, the tags were gone. And while the paint didn’t match up exactly, there was no denying the improved look that resulted from some youthful elbow grease.
Rodney, a 15-year-old who pledged he was done getting into trouble, took a moment to reflect on his work. He and 15-year-old Davin also pointed to the troublesome footpath as something that should probably be addressed.
“I’d be doing something about that over there,” he told Andrew Johnson, the county probation officer overseeing the group.
After all, they know the Mont Pleasant neighborhood. And with the effort they expended to improve one of the homes, neither wanted to see their work marked up again.
“If I see someone, I’d walk up to them an’ say ‘what you doin?’ ” Don’t do that,” Rodney commented.
This is the dual purpose of an initiative: To whittle away at the city’s graffiti problem while teaching youth a lesson in pride in their community. The crew was pulled together from youth labeled as persons in need of supervision and the city’s diversion program, meaning many of the teens are ones that could benefit from a positive experience.
“It’s good to for the kids, especially when a community member comes up to them and tells them they’re doing a good job,” Johnson said. “A lot of them aren’t used to it. They’re used to adults scolding them.”
The work also gives the teens an insight into the nuisance of graffiti. Johnson hopes the experience will help some of them dissuade friends or others of their cohorts from tagging buildings.
“If you end up influencing one or two people from doing this, then it’s a success,” he said.
The effort was spearheaded by City Council member Leesa Perazzo, who contacted the various agencies involved with youth and alternatives to incarceration. She also garnered supply donations from Home Depot and $10,000 from the city’s Industrial Development Agency to help the startup program that will run through October.
On Saturday, the group painted over graffiti on 15 buildings throughout the city — about 10 percent of the list of municipally owned and nonprofit-owned buildings that are tagged. Soon, the program is expected to seek waivers from private property owners so that the crews address the graffiti problem more broadly.
Ultimately, the vision is to have the groups paint over the graffiti almost as quickly as it’s noticed. By next year, the hope is to run the program from April through the summer, said Denise Kennedy, another probation officer working with the effort.
“The goal is to make this something that happens all year, weather permitting,” she said.
Audrey, a 12-year-old working with the group, sported paint-speckled clothes and two cream-colored hands by the end of the day, but didn’t seem to mind. She never liked graffiti and seemed to take personal pride in helping remove some of it.
“When we clean it up, it makes me proud that we helped,” she said.