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Mural aimed at raising spirits; Youth Corps places artwork on downtown Middletown building

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 8/21/19

People taking the shortcut to the Middletown borough parking lot alongside Roberto’s Pizza on South Union Street should notice something different these days.

In place of a blank, boring …

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Mural aimed at raising spirits; Youth Corps places artwork on downtown Middletown building

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People taking the shortcut to the Middletown borough parking lot alongside Roberto’s Pizza on South Union Street should notice something different these days.

In place of a blank, boring concrete wall now appears the saying “Choice Not Chance Determines Destiny” in large red and orange letters.

Crystal Biesecker hopes somebody having a bad day will see the saying and that it will make their day and “make them smile,” said Biesecker, a 14-year-old who lives in Lower Royalton.

The mural is the work of Biesecker and other members of the Middletown Communities That Care Youth Corps.

Ayden Harper, also 14, who lives a few blocks away on Emaus Street, recently stood on scaffolding to paint the letters of the saying, using stencils the youth cut out with the help of adult volunteers.

“We’re trying to spread positivity to people and make their days better,” he said.

The mural will not be static, but evolving. Every few months, the saying on the wall will be replaced with a new inspirational saying that the kids come up with, said Ellen Willenbecher, a Middletown borough councilor and a leader of Middletown Communities That Care.

The youth corps came up with the sayings in different ways. Some went online. Others went to events such as the recent Pride Festival of Central Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, looking for sayings on T-shirts and banners. Some of the kids just came up with their own saying.

To Harper, about to start ninth grade at Middletown Area High School, “Choice Not Chance Determines Destiny” is a message for people to make the most of their life, and not accept anything less.

“It makes people want to do something for themselves and take a chance, not just what they have to do to go on with their lives,” he said. People may think “their life is set in stone, but they can change it.”

The youth corps is a group of 19 students in grades 5 through 9 in Middletown Area School District. Its mission is to serve the community by doing various volunteer projects.

The youth corps operates year-round.

The corps’ first big project was assisting with the borough’s second annual Community Art Show held March 30.

The corps has really hit its stride this summer, helping run programs for kids at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and planting flowers and otherwise tidying up borough parks.

Some hard life lessons have been learned along the way. Days after the youths spent hours planting flowers and spreading mulch at Colston Park on South Wood Street, vandals tore it all up.

Not deterred, the youth corps returned to the park a few days later to do it all over again.

The goal is that this mural along the south side of the building at 17 S. Union St. will be the first of several in Middletown.

This first wall was chosen because the building is owned by the Interfaith Housing Board, a nonprofit organization whose board is chaired by Willenbecher.

She is talking with borough Public Works Director Greg Wilsbach about the youth corps painting a second mural at Hoffer Park.

This first mural was dedicated during a brief ceremony at the wall Monday. At the event, Youth Corps member Summer Kuhn spoke of how everything involved in the mural project was a team effort.

“The most important thing we learned here is that everybody gets a voice. We would all decide it together,” she said.

Attending the ceremony were five members of Middletown Borough Council, Mayor James H. Curry III, and a number of area residents, including Erika Lauffer of Londonderry Township, who was impressed with what the youth had accomplished.

“There’s a real positive youth contribution that is going on in our community. This makes me very glad,” she said.

“This community needs leaders. You are the leaders,” said Stacey Miller, an art teacher at Middletown Area Middle School. “I am so proud of you.”

In September, the youth corps will attend the 2019 Harrisburg Mural Fest held by Sprocket Mural Works.

Local, national and international artists will create 10 new murals in 10 days in Harrisburg, according to the event website. The mural fest will host a week-long series of events, including artist meet-and-greets, talks on public art, and a community paint day. The fest will culminate in a free block party Sept. 8.

“It’s kind of exciting,” Harper said of the youth corps and the mural. “It could open doors for us to do more, and it’s fun.”

Communities That Care is supported locally by St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and funded by the Dauphin County Department of Drug and Alcohol, and the Middletown Area Interfaith Housing Board.

Members of the Middletown Communities That Care Youth Corps who worked on the mural and the grade they are entering in Middletown Area School District:

• Strummer Woodworth, sixth grade.

• Bawi Iang and Izzy Beaston, seventh grade.

• Josh Sutherly, eighth grade

• Crystal Biesecker, Ayden Harper, Ciara Neyer, Ivory Parker and Dakota Shertzer, ninth grade.

• Robert Lian, Tyler Ditzler and Summer Kuhn, 10th grade.

Area youths interested in joining the corps should send an email to communitiesthatcare@stpetersmiddletown.org.