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Mural 52, Lighthouse Youth Center Paint Creek, Bainbridge, Ohio

One day my friend Anne called me up to see if I was free.  My life in Ohio usually has something to do with me sitting in front of a computer screen all day long.  Any kind of diversion is welcomed. Yes, I was free.  What did she want to do?

Anne wanted to take me to a juvenile correctional facility.

The Lighthouse Youth Center at Paint Creek is a place for young juvenile offenders to go instead of prison.  It’s an amazing location that changes lives.  Depending on the year, they’ve had a success rate of over 80% in keeping young offenders from repeating the problems that brought them to Paint Creek in the first place. That’s a whole lot of changed lives for the better.

The first thing I noticed about the complex was there were no fences.  It doesn’t take the young men long to realize they are in a place that can help them, surrounded by people who care.  And, the boys are smart enough to know they’d be in serious trouble if they tried to leave.  However, in all honesty, leaving would be a challenge.  Paint Creek is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by beautiful Ohio farm country.  There is nowhere to go if you left on foot.   The closest village, Bainbridge, looked like it might be big enough for one set of traffic lights.  It had two.  But, the place possessed one very huge claim to fame.  The very first dental school in the United States was in this little Ohio village.

Anne's brother was the CEO of the organization that ran this center as well as a host of other activities in southern Ohio. And, he was retiring. So, our reason for this visit was a ceremony in his honor. As I waited around, one man approached me and happened to ask, "What do you do?" Well, I had a lot to tell him because I can't just say, "I paint community murals," and drop the conversation. I had about fifteen minutes of uninterrupted conversation to explain what I do -- to the new CEO of Lighthouse!

That's how my mural at Paint Creek happened.

I visited the center a second time prior to the mural to measure the location and brainstorm ideas.  Very fortunately for me, they gave me a free hand to do most of what I wanted.  They liked the idea of hiding “Paint Creek” in plain sight with huge block letters. Illustrating the letters were some of the local animals found in the surrounding woods, computer technology, the Lighthouse logo, agricultural products grown on campus, kitchen dish duty, important values reinforced at Paint Creek including integrity, diversity, family, excellence, optimism, adaptability and respect, as well as a science classroom, recreational athletics and graduation.

Plans were to arrive at Paint Creek on a Sunday night and be all rested and ready for Monday morning.  Plans often don’t work out the way they are planned.  This was one of those times.  My brother needed to be delivered to the airport at 4:00 AM Monday morning, and I was his best option.  I went to bed early, at 9:30 PM, to catch a few zzzz’s.  It didn’t happen.  I was still wide awake four or five hours later.  I dropped my brother off at the airport and drove on to the mural site.  I had a little cabin overlooking the compound.  The door was open and I tried unsuccessfully to sleep for two hours.

I really need seven or eight hours of sleep to function.  I should have been in a zombie condition the entire day.  It didn’t happen.  I found myself surrounded by such nice young men who were very interested in the mural project.  It was so hard to imagine these were boys who had gotten in trouble with the law.  They were so polite and friendly.  One of my hosts explained, when they get away from the streets where they have to wear an attitude, they are free to show the kind of people they really are meant to be.  I liked what I saw.

No doubt about it, I was surrounded by young men who were learning to do a lot of things correctly.  But, that doesn’t happen by accident.  Their lives at Paint Creek were very structured because we all know the math equation teenage boys + too much free time on their hands = some kind of trouble.  Nearly every moment of every day and night was planned.  The young men walked in single file wherever they went.  Boys were not allowed to go any place on campus unsupervised.  If they worked hard, they could earn Simi-Independent Living status.  Several perks were included, but the one I would have enjoyed the most was walking freely on campus.  Only six boys had that status during my visit.

Under the circumstances, it should come as no surprise that an adult from Paint Creek had to continually monitor the boys at the mural site.  It was for the protection of everyone.  If no adult monitor was available, no students were permitted to paint.  This was a muraling first for me.

It should also come as no surprise, that regardless of the location, there were some people who especially enjoyed the project. One young man really loved science and Cy* was particularly pleased that one letter in the mural was devoted to a lab experiment. He adopted the letter "K". Cy painted the entire letter with minimal help from anyone else. Before other volunteers were permitted to help with "his" letter, they had to meet his standards. And, those were high.

Another young man, Art*, painted more than most of the other volunteers. (He was one of the guys who had to be polite to me in the cafeteria line, and it worked out well for both of us.) Art, also an artist, was particularly interested in the entire process of making a mural and bringing a community together to create a piece of art. He told me that when he goes home in the not too distant future, he'd like to see about painting murals in his community. I would really like to mentor Art in accomplishing this goal and creating his first community piece. Time will tell.

* Hmmm . . . a "Cy"entist named Cy and an artist named Art. Of course, the names have been changed.

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Copyright 2017 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.