Story-Merritt Herald

Thursday was graduation day for the crew involved with mural project this summer.
It was a time of achievement but also one of uncertainty.
“A lot of them are scared,” explained Muralist Michelle Loughery. “For seven months they have had somewhere to go and now they don’t know what the future will hold.”
But even though they are facing a future full of unknowns, there was one thing on which they could all agree – because of the Walk of Stars Mural Project they are better off than they were seven months ago.
“I got everything out of this project,” explained Josh Spahan. “I learned so much more than I can even explain.”
That response was echoed in the other graduating youth. Their achievements ranged from finding out how to mix paints to gaining the respect of the community. Each youth believed they wouldn’t be where they are today if they had not become involved in the project.
Without knowing it these youth tackled racism in their community and knocked down stereotypes that have been in place for generations.
“You made a big difference in the racism in your community. That’s huge,” Michelle explained to the group. “You changed the way people think.”
The youth agreed that more has been accomplished from this project than may meet the eye. They expressed pride in being part of something so important.
“It is a good thing because now things will change,” Phoebe Archachan said. “Now maybe others won’t have to deal with some of the things we had to go through.”
She added that the program has made her strong and independent, qualities she believes makes her more prepared to face the future. She joked that is a lot to gain when her main goal going into the project was to learn how to be a girl.
Roy Spahan said the project has changed him, but he has also noticed change in others around him.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” he said. “This crew has helped me a lot. Everyone in it pushed me to be better.”
Josh said the people in his life have also noticed a difference.
“Before I was drinking every day because I had nothing else to do,” he said. “This gave me a responsibility and something to do everyday. Now I may drink once every two weeks.”
He added that he no longer drinks to extremes and has learned his limit. Being part of the mural crew wasn’t easy for Josh, everyday he had to walk to Merritt from out past the Coldwater Reserve, a half hour drive, to make it to work. Surprisingly enough, with such a long walk and while he was on crutches for much of the contract, he was rarely late for work.
For many of the youth this project gave them an opportunity to be seen, not only around town but by people who can change their lives.
“I learned to get to know the business people better,” explained Charles Oppenhien. “I learned skills, like networking, that will make it easier to apply for a job.”
The others in the group agreed that the relationships they now have with the businesses are important and wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the project. They added that they also changed the way the public looks at youth.
“We taught the public to open their eyes more,” explained Isaian Napope. “I feel proud to be a spokesperson for youth.”
Isaian and William Hamm could potentially benefit a great deal from the relationship they gained with one area business in particular. Barry Jackson has committed to hiring the young men as soon as they return and complete high school. Both plan to take Jackson up on his offer of a welding job.
“I have been given a chance and I am not going to waste it,” William explained.
Josh also looks forward to a door that he hopes to open as a result of the experience he gained in the group. He wants to be a tattoo artist and is excited to apply for a position he has just learned is available.
In fact all of the grads have plans for the future. Charles hopes to work with cars, Roy has his sights set on the oil and gas industry and Phoebe hopes to continue on to find work using the skills she learned in the crew, perhaps even with the mural project.
Bobbi Jackson said being part of the mural crew has taught her what she really wants out of life – to be a teacher.
“Before this I had never been in a leadership role,” she said. “It was a huge learning curve but now I am more confident in what I want to do.”
She said she is a completely different person from last year.
“I took a leap of faith,” she said. “For the first bit I didn’t even get paid. I did it because I just knew something good would come out of it.”
From the hugs and tears the group shared as they said goodbye, it was clear she was right about that feeling.

Merritt Herald

Mural project grows with new funds


by Editor on April 27, 2005

The mural project is growing so fast they can hardly keep up.
With projects starting and more lined up for the future, the Merritt Walk of Stars Youth Mural Project group was glad to receive another grant from the Human Resources and Skills Development. Approximately $29,000 will help fund two more positions within the group for 25 weeks. The first will be a site manager who will assist Project ManagerMichelle Loughery. The second position is that of an administrative assistant and marketer to help out Amber Papou.

“The project is going great,” Loughery explained. “With so much work these two positions will be amazing to have.”
The eight youth involved in the project have been working hard for just over a month. You can see the results of their work on walls all over town. The list of jobs is always growing, this week they got approval to start the Ian Tyson mural so soon they will start on that mural.

Loughery and Papou said one reason for the success is the overwhelming support from the community.

“We have so many sponsors they are too numerous to name,” Loughery said. “They have donated everything from scaffolding to sun screen.”
Papou said with a project like this, one that is helping youth improve their situation, it is especially admirable that the businesses and community is getting involved.
If you are interested in the new positions with the mural project, drop by Community Futures to put in an application. This time there is no age restriction. The applicant must be or have been on employment insurance sometime in the past three years.
“Anyone can apply who has experienced that their barrier to work is a lack of experience,” explained Selena Olson, of HRDC. “The idea is to offer them that experience.”