This weekend, members of the Lents neighborhood worked in collaboration with Multnomah County’s STRYVE program (Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere) to create a piece of art on the intersection of S.E. 86th and Glenwood Avenue.
Children and adults of all ages worked from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. — both Saturday and Sunday — alongside husband-wife duo Vicki Wilson and John Larsen.
The morning brought cooler temperatures than expected, drawing a steady trickle of neighbors and STRYVE volunteers, each ready to pick up a roller and paint tray and get to work.
At 10 a.m., Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury dedicated a peace pole in the front yard of Lents resident and civic activist Kate Mytron’s 105-year-old home. It read “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in eight different languages, epitomizing the message behind the event.
Although the painting was the main attraction of the day, it was the dialogue between community members that invigorated the colorful scene.
“Unless we come together, everybody lives in isolation and events like this bring together people across so many different diversities,” says Rebecca Stavenjord, former STRYVE coordinator and current community liaison in the county’s Office of Government Relations. “These relationships start with getting together and putting some paint on the street.”
It is this civic engagement that is at the heart of the STRYVE program, which is working within a five-year agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the initial funders of the program. Since 2011, Multnomah County has spearheaded efforts towards violence prevention by utilizing public health.
Implemented in only three other cities, including Boston, Mass., Houston, Texas, and Salinas, Calif., STRYVE places a heavy emphasis on the employment of at-risk youth.
“Our young people want to work and when they get that opportunity…they’ll take it. With the employment, kids don’t have to [utilize] other means to gain income,” explains Pam Hiller, the community organizer with the Community Capacitation Center and the STRYVE site supervisor for Rosewood and Wood Village.
In past years, STRYVE has worked in collaboration with other neighborhoods to paint intersections similar to the one in the Lents neighborhood. They’ve also worked to build 150 “Little Free Libraries” – small, wooden boxes where neighbors can share their favorite books – that are now common in many neighborhoods of Portland. With such projects, the intent is to engage young people and other community members in the hopes of establishing a sense of unity.
One of the many painters, Maria Factor is three-months-new to STRYVE but she already sees the difference that the program is making in the community.
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, Factor works at a local church, distributing free lunches. “I enjoy my job. It’s not an ordinary job. [I enjoy] how they help the community,” she says.
Rusty Bonham, a longtime resident of the Lents neighborhood and an avid STRYVE supporter, is no stranger to the impact that projects like this can have.
Two years ago, a similar project was painted on an intersection near his own house, just three blocks from this weekend’s location on S.E. 85th and Knapp.
“It’s awkward just to sit and talk with strangers...but when you’re working side-by-side, it’s a lot easier to relax and enjoy one another. We found it to be a great community builder,” Bonham says.
The painting also serves another purpose besides unification: environmental education.
Neighbor Kate Mytron hopes that this painting will inform passerbyers of the troublesome decrease in Portland’s bee population that, last year, sparked the city to approve a ban of neonicotinoids, one of the leading insecticides responsible for the bees’ sharp decline.
In collaboration with the artists, John Larsen and Vicki Wilson, members of the neighborhood worked to settle on a design that would not only encompass highlights of the neighborhood, but also incorporate traces of Portland’s growing bee problem.
“A lot of the bees around the world are dying. It’s very controversial. If the bees die, we have no food,” Mytron says.
With the painting now completed, it serves as a reminder for many about the good work that is being done in neighborhoods across Greater Portland and the impact of events like this on the community.
“In the midst of a world that’s full of so much chaos and violence, I think it’s really important to be in a place where you’re working with something different and offering a different perspective,” says Vanessa Micale, current STRYVE coordinator.
Chair Kafoury undoubtedly shares this sentiment.
In her dedication address, amongst STRYVE youth, Lents neighbors and other volunteers, she remarked, “We are about peace and love, not violence.”