WATERVLIET — “Actually, I’ve never painted before,” confided Watervliet High School freshman Ava Selby, standing – paintbrush in hand – in Watervliet’s Flaherty Park on Friday. “It’s fun.”
With brushes and rollers, Selby and close to a dozen of her teammates on the WHS junior varsity girls volleyball team were slapping bright new paint onto the sun-faded steps that lead down from Church Street to the streamside park.
They weren’t the only teen-aged volunteers pitching in to give their town a fresh look. In an event its planners labeled Impact Watervliet, well over a hundred student-athletes from Watervliet High School gathered in Hayes Park Friday morning, received their marching orders, and then fanned out across town to tackle a variety of chores.
By design, the student worked in teams. That is to say, actual sports teams.
The downtown’s light poles got a fresh coat of black paint from the boys cross country team. The varsity football team went to work in Hayes Park, painting the concession stand and other structures. Nearby, the JV football team began painting the Hayes Park baseball dugouts.
Soccer players painted manholes, cement picnic-table tops, swingsets and anything else colored maroon in Flaherty Park. And on plastic-draped picnic tables set up on Main Street, 16 varsity cheerleaders painted wood discs either bright white or orange, for use as pumpkins and snow-people in Watervliet’s upcoming Halloween and winter holiday street decorations.
The event turned out to be “a great thing,” said Jeff Allen, Watervliet’s director of Public Works. Allen and his team were on hand at every worksite to oversee the student projects.
“I can see this idea taking off in the future,” he added.
Impact Watervliet was devised by City Manager Tyler Dotson in collaboration with WHS Athletic Director Ken Dietz. A key aim of the plan was to let student-athletes contribute “in a meaningful way” to their town, to do “something they could really take ownership and pride in,” Dietz said when the event was recently announced.
But it was also structured as a team-building exercise, a way for the athletes to cooperate in an off-the-field venture. That’s why specific teams were assigned their own projects. And for the length of the four-hour event, that element of the plan was obviously bearing fruit.
The work session was “not bad,” said freshman soccer player Abel Villareal, as he painted equipment in Flaherty Park, but the best part, he said, was “being with the team.”
“You can tell what we’ve done,” said cross-country runner Corbin Camp, looking at the fresh black lampposts he and his team mates had painted on Main Street. “This makes it look better.”
The business community offered support for the first-ever event: The Downtown Development Authority chipped in $1,000 to help fund supplies, and Matt Clancy of Sherwin-Williams in St. Joseph helped Watervliet obtain paint at a deeply reduced price.
The turnout was “pretty remarkable,” said City Manager Dotson, watching the students at work. “One of our biggest assets is our young people,” he said, “and this proves it again.”