A student-led community service project has evolved into a mentorship mural program after receiving additional support from interested community members.
Tatelyn Schultz an incoming senior at Creston Community High School, first approached her art teacher, Bailey Fry-Schnormeier, last winter about leading a community service project, an idea she came up with while applying for a Herbert Hoover Scholarship.
“Before I came to Mrs. Fry, her and Blake had a plan to do a mentorship during the summer with murals for kids. I got to talking with her and I told her about my idea and she told me about hers and we kind of put the two ideas together,” said Schultz.
Schultz said aside from her passion for art, her relationship with Maigen Carroll, the juvenile court liaison at CCHS, also inspired the project. Shultz said she approached Carroll to see if any of the students she works with would be interesting in working on her service project.
Schultz’s first two murals on North Elm Street features endangered species she discovered on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website. Her goal: to educate the public about endangered plants and animals in Iowa, but also give “endangered youth” a service project they could work on that they could be proud of.
“I’ve had my share of bad things that have happened to me. I can kind of relate to them. I’ve never been on probation or anything, but I did go down a bad path a few years ago, so I can kind of relate to these kids and I understand them,” said Schultz. “A lot of community service is cleaning gym floors and equipment ... nothing that really has a big impact on them. I wanted to incorporate them into this project, that way when it’s done, they can look at that and say, ‘I helped with that. I was a part of that.’ No one looks at a gym floor and says, ‘I cleaned that. I was a part of that.’”
While the mural mentor project is open to all students seeking community service hours or volunteer work, Schultz said her goal of working with Carroll’s students was important to her as she sees those students as endangered and at a breaking point.
“There is a path they can go down that not be the best for them or they can see that they are valued and important to the world and that we need them,” she said.
Schultz and Fry-Schnormeier approached Creston City Council in March, seeking approval to paint on city-owned property and to request primer.
Jocelyn Blazek, Ward 1 representative, said she loved the idea and approached Schultz following the meeting. Blazek told Schultz about funds available through DECAT, a funding pool created in 1987 by then Gov. Terry Branstad and the Iowa General Assembly to decommission funding to better serve individual communities.
“The purpose was to help fill gaps for services for children and families that other funding wasn’t able to provide for,” said Blazek.
One of the goals of the Child Welfare Decategorization Project is to accomplish major system changes without spending more than would have been spent in the former categorical system.
“For this particular contract, the purpose is either to prevent juvenile delinquency or to help reduce incidences of juvenile delinquency,” said Blazek. “If they’ve got something to do, it’s going to help keep them from getting bored and doing things that land them in the system. ... We’re not only helping them get their ... community service in, but helping give them a sense of community pride.”
As of June, DECAT provided $10,800 toward Schultz’s “Endangered Youth” mural mentorship program and has set aside an additional $10,000 to be used in July and August.
Creston Police Chief Paul Ver Meer, who was also in attendance at the March council meeting where Schultz presented her plan, approached her offering assistance in writing a community grant through Walmart. Ver Meer’s efforts earned the project a $2,500 award.
“It’s been a really amazing way for the youth of Creston who wouldn’t necessarily (connect) ... or connect with us in a way they wouldn’t really get a chance to if we were in a classroom with 25 other students,” said Fry-Schnormeier.
Fry-Schnormeier said the mission of the project is “connecting the marginalized youth to the community to the creation of murals for a just, equitable, diverse and inclusive future.”
The project has attracted the involvement of former CCHS students and local artists, too. Today, students and volunteers are putting the finishing touches on a third mural on the rear-side of Jade Garden, designed by May Ling Chuong of Creston, who is currently a junior at Coe College.
Future murals include the work of CCHS graduates Bailey Hopkins, Bree Daggett, Keith Smith, Tyler Downey and Knappy Fogle. Other murals showcase the work of comic artist Phill Williams and urban designer David Marroquin.
Fry-Schnormeier said the Walmart funding helped complete Schultz’s first two murals on North Elm and West Montgomery streets, but the continuation of the mentorship mural project would not be possible without Blazek and the DECAT funding.
“We’ve also have awesome community members,” said Fry-Schnormeier.
As volunteers have painted, Fry-Schnormeier said people have donated everything from water to snacks. Former Crestonians Karl and Jan Knock have provided pizza from A&G daily as muralists work through lunch. Others who have contributed are Brett Street (power washing), Tim Fogleson, Zeke Chafa at True Value, Kellie Wipperman (ladders), and Wayne Pantini and Mindy Stalker of the Union County Development Association (lift).
“And just all the little businesses that have just said ‘Yes.’ It started off with the city saying yes and allowing us to paint on their walls, then to have these business owners say yes and give freedom to artists has just blown me away,” said Fry-Schnormeier. “Every day I come home and my heart is just so full.”