Stanwood students team to rid park of vandalism, drug use

STANWOOD — The mural is about transformation.

It’s about overcoming struggle.

It’s about finding a voice.

That’s how seven Stanwood teens describe “Project STAND,” their work painting a mural for Church Creek Park at 27116 72nd Ave. NW.

The teens and other volunteers are working with Stanwood police to clean up the 16-acre park, where vandalism, damaged play equipment, and drug and alcohol abuse have led to prolonged closures, especially during school hours.

When Police Chief Rick Hawkins visited the park last fall, the gate was locked, closing off the entrance, and young people were hanging out inside.

At the sight of him, they scattered into the bushes.

He waited them out. They all got to talking.

He asked them for ideas to make the park vibrant again.

As chief, Hawkins didn’t like the idea of a park being closed because of a few people committing crimes there, he said.

“We’re supposed to prevent that,” he said. “Let’s stop the damage and criminal activity and get it fixed up and cleaned up, where people want to be a part of it.”

Around the same time the chief was thinking about the problems at the park, Krystal Roig, 32, stopped by the police station, to report issues with graffiti at a local grocery store. She’d recently moved to Stanwood from Florida.

She and the chief talked. When people have problems, he likes to hear their ideas for solutions, he said.

Hawkins learned that Roig has a master’s degree in criminal justice, and she had experience working with young people. Hawkins asked her for help with the park.

That’s how the project got started: “STAND,” for Stereotypes Alternatively Defined.

Church Creek Park has a negative stereotype, Roig said. She assembled a team of teens who volunteered from Lincoln Hill High School, an alternative campus in town.

“They put a lot of hours into this, since the beginning of February,” Hawkins said.

The teens created a mock-up for the mural. They recently presented it to the school board, and are now painting the final piece, a 10-by-4-foot two-piece plank of plywood, at the Community Resource center.

“I have a trunkful of donated paint,” Roig said.

Last week, Mayor Leonard Kelley stopped by to check in.

If the project is successful, the city may approve a similar mural for another park, he said.

The depth of the work is slowly emerging on the plywood.

There is a heart made of curlicues, an imposing dragon, flowers and finches, turtles and angels. Each teen contributed to the design, their earlier sketches lined up on poster boards set on chairs.

On July 2, Natasha Wilcoxen, 15, was filling in the details of a tree, its bark the gray of a stormy sea.

Her sketches included a “big sister,” a robot-like guardian to protect children, playing on a swing. She drew a lantern, to light up darkness.

Kayli Rodgers, 17, worried about her yellow-and-purple finch, if the wings matched the body in size. She sketched elaborate hummingbirds, poised over petals. Her work is delicate, like her subjects.

“I really like drawing flowers and animals and nature and swirly things,” she said.

Nick Platt and Ellie Nowak, both 18, just graduated high school.

Platt helped the other students decide which cans of paint to open and mix.

“I just think it was a wonderful opportunity to get involved with the community,” Platt said. “It was positive and uplifting.”

A murmur of excitement crossed the room when some of the girls found glitter paint. The dragon’s scales, they whispered.

Platt is tasked with the dragon’s head. Together, the teens brainstormed the theme of the mural, with concepts of strength and personal growth, Platt said.

“It’s going through struggles and getting up to a point where you realize you have self-empowerment, and you go through a transformation,” he said. “At the end of the mural, you have a voice. You can say what you want. You have an opinion.”

Nowak kicked off her shoes. She’s drawing hands that curl out from the gnarled tree.

She likes drawings hands. It challenges her.

“It’s a realistic thing. It can go so easily wrong,” she said. “Proportions are everything, or it’s not going to look like a hand.”

The design in the mural moves from black-and-white into color, from left to right.

“It represents confusion, and how you have not yet found the color within yourself,” said Jordyn Corey, 17. “It shows the starting point in your life, the blacks and whites fading into these bright, vibrant colors you create for yourself.”

Meanwhile, volunteers have work parties planned at Church Creek Park in July and August. They are going to weed and clean. City crews also are working on the park.

The mural unveiling is set for Aug. 16. The time is not final, yet.

One of the young people has suggested live music for the event, Hawkins said. The resource center has a portable stage the volunteers can borrow.

Hawkins figures if the community can be involved and take part in something like a park cleanup, they will feel pride and ownership in the work. That makes others less likely to want to cause damage.

The mural is not a cure-all, the chief said.

It’s a first step.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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