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Youth volunteers clean up downtown graffiti

POSTED: July 20, 2013 11:53 p.m.

Sarah Arenas, left, and Jade Butts, members of Youth and Community Leadership Academy, size up some of the graffiti Saturday morning on Maple Street downtown. Some 25 YCLA members painted over spray painted tags on walls, doors and glass on the narrow downtown street that looks like an alley. Not all merchants let the student group remove the tags.

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Generation Inspiration, a youth organization under the Beulah Rucker Museum umbrella, helped beautify downtown Gainesville Saturday by washing away and painting over graffiti in the square.

Kela Owens is the coordinator for Generation Inspiration, and has worked for the group’s facilitator and founder, former Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell, for six years.

“We try to do about three or four community service projects every summer,” Owens said.

Owens said that while graffiti plagues many areas of the city, the square was the obvious choice for the group of about 25 high school students to tackle first.

“Andy Piucci, he’s the one who actually picked me up one day and drove me all around the city to show me the graffiti,” she said. “He showed me everywhere ... and he picked the square, because we both feel like it is the heart of Gainesville. We want to start with the heart first and then branch out and do the rest of the city.”

A paint-splattered Michele Owusu, 16, said she wanted to help make Gainesville more clean, beautiful and respectful of its business owners.

“I think graffiti shouldn’t on the wall in the first place,” she said. “It’s other people’s property, and it’s making our Gainesville look messy, the more and more graffiti there is. By cleaning it up, we’re taking off the mess and making it look more peaceful.”

The rising junior also participates in Key Club. Her other community service outing with the group was spent picking up trash in a neighborhood.

Owens said they’ll discuss future plans as a group, but thinks graffiti cleanup may be an every-other-month service activity, a job usually left to law enforcement.

All of the supplies were provided by the Gainesville Police Department and Hall County-Gainesville Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad, Owens said.

“The MANS department, they are the ones that usually clean up the graffiti on public places, but they aren’t allowed to hit private business,” she said.

And with one exception, the group got permission to remove and paint over graffiti from the businesses.

Owens said increasing the group’s visibility in the community can make an impact on both the city they serve and the students themselves.

“Whatever the community gives us is how much in scholarship we give out to the students,” she said.


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