SHARON – Students from Sharon City School District’s COOL program cringed as they filled a large garbage tote with trash from around an abandoned house on East State Street.
“How long did it take us to pick up this garbage here?” asked Geno Rossi, a Sharon code enforcement officer. “And we still need to push the grass down, we need to open up the sidewalk a little bit and cut the brush back a little bit.”
The abandoned house at 1180 E. State St. is being used to illustrate the community service project by the student members of the COOL program from Case Avenue Elementary and Sharon Middle High School. The local effort is part of a national event — Lights on Afterschool.
The student volunteers set up luminarias Thursday to light up their project and to bring attention to the work they completed at the house.
Rossi has been educating the students in 5th through 12th grade on blight issues, which is a major concern for the city of Sharon, he said.
“We believe that educating the youth, as well as the general public, is very important and is a major step toward fixing our city’s blight issues,” Rossi said.
Rossi said the city has referred to the building, which is across the street from the high school, as the “broken window theory” house. The house’s owner had a stroke, and his wife went into a nursing home. The code department sent the owners a letter asking them to clean up the area surrounding the house as it became overgrown and was used as a trash dump for several months.
The owners responded by having the overgrown brush cut down around the house and the grass cut last week. That’s when the Sharon students were able to go in and pick up trash.
The COOL after school program, which serves Sharon and Farrell Area school districts, is funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant from the U.S. Department of Education. It serves more than 200 children from the two districts by providing homework assistance, mentoring, tutoring, social and emotional learning, drug and alcohol prevention and classes in computers, sports, recreation, mathematics, STEM, art and more.
Rossi set up a series of cleanups with the Sharon and Farrell football programs and the COOL students this past summer.
“We were in conversation about the next steps of the cleanup process and scheduling more cleanups,” Rossi said. “We are using it as an opportunity to educate the kids on the role they play.”
The students and Rossi brainstormed and catalogued the problems at the East State Street house. The list included overgrown bushes and grass, a door that was falling off, garbage strewn on the porch and around the property, roof and structure issues, and unstable ground – all of which can produce negative emotions in those who pass by, the students said.
Then, they brainstormed for solutions, which included scheduling cleanups, coordinating neighborhood help, holding fundraisers for money for equipment, boarding up doors and windows and spreading the word through social media.
Rossi is working with the students from Case Avenue and the middle-high school, but his educational efforts also extend to West Hill Elementary and C.M. Musser Elementary. Both schools have areas where they will be cleaning up and placing luminaries to highlight the work they have accomplished at their sites.
“We want to put the power in the kids’ hands,” Rossi said. “They want to light it up with a path to show what the possibilities can be.”
All three campuses will be “lighting up” their sites this week.
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