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Service: Volunteers Put ‘Community’ First in Service Project

Painting Pride in Wapato2015

By Mary Ellen Robinson, SNJM

Last winter, I stood at the large dining room window of Marie Rose House in Wapato, WA, reflecting on the transformation of the house across the street. Snow fell gently all around. The house, empty and abandoned, is owned by a Vietnam veteran who has no energy to live in it himself, nor to rent or sell it. Its huge white walls have been the target of constant, aggressive graffiti for years.

But last June, an international team of volunteer artists transformed that graffiti into images of hope and beauty.

Most of the volunteers were young people from immigrant families. A  Mexican-American Wapato High School student, Alondra Zaragoza, dreamed of a meaningful community service project for her Miss Wapato campaign. She teamed with a Seattle University student, Khanh Vy Nguyen, an immigrant from Vietnam who had visited Wapato the previous March. Together they enlisted other friends and family to create “Painting Pride in Wapato.”

Felisa Gonzalez from Heritage University, with years of experience in pageant competitions, helped Alondra turn her dream into a plan. Vy Nguyen recruited recent Seattle University graduates Prince A. Jadusingh and Ashley Haynes-Gibson, as well as her cousins Jennifer Nguyen, aged 8, and Chau Huynh, 18, who goes by “C.” Alondra recruited schoolmates Isabel Velasquez and Ethan Gamboa. The volunteers had help from Yakima artist Deborah Ann, who helped the youth bring disparate ideas and images into a unified whole, as well as a surprise delivery of huge cans of base paint from Wapato Public Works Director Menglou Wang, an immigrant from China.

On Father’s Day weekend – June 19-21, 2015 – they converged on the house. By the time they finished, six walls bloomed with colorful images reflecting life, hope and local values. On one wall, a whimsical “green thing” whirls towards imaginative butterflies, flowers and greenery. On another, Prince Jadusingh created an East Indian-looking Virgin of Guadalupe. A wolf painted by Vy stands at her side.  The images are particularly powerful in Wapato, where 70% of residents are Latino, mainly of Mexican roots, for whom Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most beloved patroness and protector, and where the wolf is the mascot for Wapato High School.

I sometimes see passing cars reduce their speed as their occupants take a long look. Students at nearby elementary schools sometimes change their walking route to go by the house. Teens perch on its back steps to listen to music or play on their cell phones.

Today, as snow falls, all is still. Into the silence, I send thanks to God for volunteers who can transform a heartbreak into a community magnet.

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