By Paul Ruggiero
The bowlers lean forward, listening to the ball grumble down the lane until the pins fall with a xylophonic clatter. The Lucky Strikes team cheers, and the Swingers groan. But they all clap for the elderly woman hobbling from the foul line back to her seat. It’s a typical scene at Manor Bowling Lanes in Hopwood, Pennsylvania, except for one thing: all twelve bowlers are blind.
They’re all members of the Vision for Living Activity Group, established by the Fayette County Association for the Blind earlier this year. Sandra Morris, executive director of the Association, says that many blind people have trouble leaving their homes. But the bowling league spurred a dozen locals to get out of the house, ride public transportation, and get physical.
Bobby Reed, a Swingers team member, says that wasn’t even the best part of the bowling league, which ran from spring to summer of 2012. “Over those four months,” says Reed, “we became a family.” Morris says that the visually impaired often have fewer opportunities to socialize, and that one of the bowling league’s greatest successes was the forging of new friendships.
The Vision for Living Activity Group was funded by a Seed Award, one of the second batch to be awarded in Fayette and Greene Counties. The award paid for the lane fees, league shirts, and special ramps to help the bowlers find the foul line and, for the older bowlers, an assisted throw ramp.
The Association is comparing the participants’ social and physical activity before and after the league. Morris expects the numbers to confirm what she’s already seen. “Their personalities blossomed,” she says. “They get out more, they talk to each other as friends.”
In August, the Association held a banquet to celebrate the group and talk about its future. And though the Lucky Strikes raised the championship trophy, everybody won.
Flowing into the Future
In nearby Uniontown, several streets intersect to form the busy Five Corners. It’s anchored by a small, pleasant park dedicated to native son George C. Marshall, World War II military leader and architect of the post-war plan to rebuild Europe. But just across Main Street sits a historic property that could use rebuilding of its own: the Uniontown Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 47. It was once one of the oldest and largest VFW posts in the country. Now, like many places in Uniontown, it’s abandoned.
The Fay-Penn Economic Development Council (FPEDC) plans to renovate the building into a community center. But the Fayette Young Professionals Network (FYPN) wanted to kick start the property’s rejuvenation from the outside in.
The Main Street Mosaic project, supported by a Seed Award, will transform the hospital-green retaining wall that borders two sides of the VFW parking lot into public art. Devan Grote, president of the FYPN and sustainable communities specialist for the FPEDC, says the project aims to do more than beautify Five Corners. “It is really to get people to find ownership in their home and be proud of it.”
The project’s lead artist, Adam Kenney, also executive director of the nearby Touchstone Center for Crafts, says the goal “was to find an icon that both had that sort of historical significance, was a symbol for renewal and growth, and was also universally aesthetically pleasing.” From community input, he chose rivers for the mural’s theme. He then designed a simple, two-foot-tall curving line that threads in and out of the mural, like the way Redstone Creek weaves through Uniontown, even underneath the VFW lot.
Precut concrete sections of the mural will be taken to elder care facilities, elementary schools, and other community sites so that residents can mount the tiles. Steel blossoms two feet wide will be planted in the design, mimicking the flowers along Redstone Creek.
The mural should be splashing and blooming along the wall of the VFW lot in time for summer of 2013. Grote wants Uniontown residents to see the mural—and the community—as their own: “I hope they breathe a sigh of relief that they can see there’s revitalization going on.”
Sometimes, it’s people that need revitalizing. According to Dr. Norma D. Thomas, chair of the Board of Directors, East End United Community Center in Uniontown, many of the community’s African-American young men and boys live in homes without positive male role models. But another Seed Award helped change that for a lot of Uniontown kids—and they weren’t the only ones who benefited.
From May to July, the Center’s Intergenerational Mentoring Program for African American Males paired about 20 African-American boys ages 12 to 18 with older African-American men. The youths got someone to talk with about school, relationships, work, or anything else.
Darius Pratt, a 16-year-old mentee of the program, says he and his mentor talked about sports, grades, and careers. They also talked about handling peer pressure. Pratt says, “It helps you think, ‘If he was in this situation, how would he handle it?’”
The mentors seem to get as much out of it as their young counterparts. “I think he learned that all young people aren’t trying to get in trouble all the time,” says Pratt of his mentor. He adds, “I think he learned how to use his cell [phone].”
The learning doesn’t stop there. Some of the program’s meetings are open to the public. Dr. Thomas feels everyone should see the program’s guest speakers—and their community’s young, African-American males, whom Thomas says have suffered from bad publicity.
The participants responded to the program so positively that it will start up again in October. Thanks to the mentorship program, Pratt is looking even further down the road, to a career in sports management. “It’s not just about what’s happening now,” he says. “You got to plan for the future, too.”