‘GREAT’ kids wipe out graffiti at East Portland park

Why were students from outer East Portland participating in a graffiti paint-out at an inner SE Portland park? All will become clear, as you read this story …

Students from outer East Portland’s Floyd Light Middle School “GREAT” class spend this day providing community service by removing graffiti at inner SE Portland’s Hazeltine Park.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Ever since neighbors helped the City of Portland turn vacant property on SE Flavel Drive into a city park – now named Hazeltine Park – residents have enjoyed the open space in which to picnic, run, plan, and take in the great southern view.

But, the fence along the eastern boundary of the park has become a target for taggers who insist on defacing the wooden slats with gangster graffiti.

6th graders Tamirah Moore, Danielle Wishart-McGinnis and Duran Herrera work together painting out graffiti that once defaced this fence, bordering Hazeltine Park.

GREAT class meets neighborhood need
On May 2, seventeen sixth-graders from outer East Portland’s Floyd Light Middle School responded to the problem – and piled out of vehicles, picked up paint rollers and brushes, and covered the graffiti with a thick coat of METRO’s brown outdoor paint.

“This group is part of our ‘GREAT’ class,” explained Portland Police Bureau Officer Chris Burley, who is also an instructor in the bureau’s “Gang Resistance Education and Training” program, for which GREAT is the acronym.

One of the main components of the GREAT program, Burley said, is a community service project. “A lot of kids in my classes this year said they have noticed – and are bothered by – a lot of graffiti in their community. They wanted to help get rid of some of the tagging.”

Because most of the graffiti near their school is along busy highways, Burley said that Marcia Dennis, Director of the City of Portland’s Office of Graffiti Abatement, suggested Hazeltine Park would be a good place for their class project.

The park’s namesake, Dick Hazeltine, says he’s pleased to see these young people out helping their community.

Not a ‘nice decoration’
One student, Danielle Wishart-McGinnis, agreed. “Graffiti is all over the place,” she told us. “We’re glad to help out in the neighborhood, to help make it look new and neat, not all old and messy. Graffiti is just gross. Graffiti is not a nice decoration.”

Another part of the event for the youngsters was meeting the man the park was named after, Richard Hazeltine. At first, Burley explained, some of the kids were surprised that the park wasn’t named after someone long-dead. “And, they were really happy and excited to meet him in person, and get to learn about the man for whom the park was named.”

Hazeltine, who grew up just a block west of the park, smiled, as the kids painted out the graffiti. “Speaking for myself, and on behalf of my neighborhood – I’ve lived here my whole life – we’re very grateful. The fact that they’re helping here, far from their own neighborhood, makes it all the more special. The graffiti has been here for more than three months; I’m glad to see it gone.”

Portland Police Bureau Officer Chris Burley, a “GREAT” program class instructor, watches his students’ progress with Portland’s “anti-graffiti czar” Marcia Dennis.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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