All kinds of volunteers join forces under hot holiday sun

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - MacKenzie Clark, 5, tried hard not to get her dress dirty as she painted over graffiti with other volunteers Saturday morning in Forest Grove. Clark is the daughter of Public Safety Advisory Commission member Allyn Clark, who helped organize the paintover party--and brought his parents along to help as well.The Rojas-Lopez family could see people moving and hear people talking on the other side of the tall wooden fence bordering their Forest Grove backyard.

Were they taggers back to add more graffiti?

No, it was the opposite: a platoon of volunteers painting over the graffiti already there.

Saturday morning marked the first public event organized by the city’s Public Safety Advisory Commission (PSAC), whose seven members have spent months discussing how to address one of the top concerns of city residents: graffiti.

After investigating, Alex Rojas-Lopez, 9, his sister Yosellyn, 10, and mother, Maria Lopez, soon joined the effort. It was the children’s first time painting—and their first time volunteering.

“When I’m tired, can I stop?” Yosellyn asked.Public Safety Advisory Commission member Nathan Seable and his son, Quentin, work on repainting one section of the graffiti-covered fence. Seabolds other two sons also helped.

They weren’t the only youth helping. PSAC member Nathan Seable brought his three sons along. Fellow member Allyn Clark brought his 5-year-old daughter, MacKenzie.

“Daddy, look at me! I’m dong a really good job not getting my dress dirty,” called MacKenzie, who wore her bright pink party dress and—just a half-hour into it—pronounced the painting party “fun.”

Rounding out the youth contingent was a team of at least seven volunteers from the Forest Grove chapter of DeMolay, a youth group for boys aged 12 to 21 sponsored by the fraternal order of Masons.

“I just love the idea of all of these youth helping,” said Forest Grove Police Chief Janie Schutz, who was on-site to help supervise the first of what could be many more painting parties.

The event was the result of months of discussion by PSAC members. While city laws require property owners to paint over graffiti, commission members decided certain cases are appropriate for volunteer help.

Yosellyn and Alex Rojas-Lopez grabbed paint rollers after they discovered volunteers painting over graffiti on the other side of their back fence. Their mother, Maria Lopez, and aunt, Celia Lopez, also joined the team of volunteers.They chose a standard, dark paint color—”Brown-eyed Girl”—to keep their paintovers uniform (and make future graffiti harder to see) and tried it out at 10 a.m. Saturday, ending around 1 p.m.

In addition to the youth contingent, volunteers at the other end of the age spectrum included MacKenzie’s grandparents, Rick and Leslie Clark, and retirees Dennis and Mary Johnson, all Forest Grove residents.

“We have a thing about graffiti,” said Mary Johnson, 66. “When we moved up from California 35 years ago it was so nice to not see graffiti or litter.”

That has changed, even in Forest Grove, where the Johnsons relocated from Aloha five years ago. When they got a mass email requesting paintover volunteers, they were happy to step up.

In preparation for the volunteers, Forest Grove firefighters pressure-washed the fence and former fire chief (and PSAC chair) Bob Mills spent a few early hours weedwhacking along its length. Ace Hardware discounted the paint price.

All told, nearly 25 volunteers, including “Forest Grove Leader” Editor Samantha Swindler, volunteered enough time to cover the entire 500-foot section of NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - Paintover volunteers spread out along a 500-foot-long fence bordering a sports field at Neil Armstrong Middle School. (L-R): DeMolay volunteer Travis Hendershott, 13, and his friend Tyson; Gabriel Jones, 17; Alex Rojas-Lopez, 9; Allyn Clark; Celia Lopez; Maria Lopez; Rick Clark; Dakota Crosby, 15; Chris Crosby, 17; Jason Thacker.

Next time, they’ll aim for the second part of the fence, which turns the corner and stretches along the north side of the Neil Armstrong parking lot.

Clark expects that to happen in the next few weeks, before the rainy season sets in. To volunteer, call Mike Bernhardt, volunteer coordinator for the Forest Grove Police, at 503-992-3260.

And come forwarned by 5-year-old MacKenzie, who summed up the experience after another hour of toiling in the hot sun: “This is hard painting. It’s a long fence.”

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