Monday, August 11, 2008

Rural Action News

Revitalizing High Street
by Clay Flaherty, Media VISTA

As previously reported in the Rural Rambler, two abandoned storefronts in downtown Glouster recently received a new lease on life thanks to the efforts of Rural Action's Youth Act, and the creativity of local children.

The project, called Youth Art on High Street, renovated two empty storefronts at
85 and 87 High Street in Glouster and converted them into showcases for artwork from local youth organizations like Sunday Creek Watershed Day Camp, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Girl Power Club, and the Glouster Community Church Vacation Bible School.

The showcase opened to modest, but extremely positive, public reception on Sunday, August 11.

"I think it breathes life back into the town," said Leo DeLuca, a Summer VISTA with Rural Action who, along with full-time VISTA Christine Far, was responsible for implementing the project. "Hopefully, just seeing the storefronts coming back to life will help the people take pride in their town."

Over 150 children contributed to the renovation, whether with artwork or by helping with the cleaning and preparation of the storefronts. Rural Action's community development director Mary Steinmaus said that giving local children a sense of accomplishment was the most valuable part of the displays.

"It's so important for the kids to see their work," she said.

Glouster residents, walking by the exhibit, remarked that these projects could be a catalyst for renewal in a region that is in desperate need of a fresh start.

It's beautiful," said Cheryl Lax of Glouster. "It adds so much to the community."

She also added that appealing to the next generation of Glouster gives children a sense of pride in their locale, and could even move older residents as well.

"It's nice for the kids to see that they can have a positive effect on beautifying the community," she said. "I just wish that they'd do it to every building down the road. This is an inspiration. It really lifts you up."

The children's bright murals, drawings, pottery, and collages have replaced the dust and clutter at these previously empty stores. Unfortunately, Glouster's High Street is still replete with other disused storefronts. What were once general stores, offices and local businesses now stand as empty monuments to a more prosperous past. The two stores used in the project itself once housed a construction company and an upholstery store, respectfully.

The plight of Glouster is indicative of a much larger problem, as economic changes have led many once-thriving rural communities to dry up around the country.

However, there is hope within the Glouster community that projects like Youth Art on High Street will be able to breathe some life back into the town. There may even be plans to expand upon Rural Action's initial idea.

"I'm just excited," said Mary Mitchell, the principal from Trimble Elementary. After looking at the art exhibit, Mitchell said that she would be contacting other schools and organizations in the hopes of creating similar projects elsewhere in the region.

"The color, the excitement is just wonderful. I was driving through town the other day and I thought that this is exactly what this place needed. We need to look like we're not dying."


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