By Drew Brooks
Published: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 5:00 p.m.
The University of South Carolina Upstate’s Youth Leadership Institute is a week-long program meant to foster leadership skills in local teens.
On Wednesday, the students painted a mural at the corner of West Main Street and Daniel Morgan Avenue and cleaned downtown signs marking the Spartanburg Music Trail, an interactive walking tour showcasing some of the city’s talented native sons and daughters.
The mural, meanwhile, will help mark the western part of downtown, an area previously dubbed the “Grain District” by a grassroots marketing campaign in early 2010.
Jennifer Parker, an associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at USC Upstate, said the students, from across Spartanburg County, were to be pushed out of their comfort zones by a series of projects, workshops, field trips and lectures.
The week-long camp is housed on the USC Upstate campus, but includes events across Spartanburg, in Greenville and in Cowpens that are focused on civic engagement.
“Students will identify issues facing Spartanburg and the world, and explore problem-solving techniques, conflict resolution skills, cross-cultural communication, personal responsibility and respect for self and others,” Parker said.
Phillip Macdonald, a 17-year-old rising senior at Oakbrook Preparatory School, and Timmany Nesbitt, a 16-year-old rising junior at Byrnes High School, said the institute brought together numerous backgrounds and personalities.
“It’s basically a giant mixing pot,” Macdonald said.
The pair said they appreciated being around so many other teens with positive attitudes and said they were enjoying the activities and seminars that were planned for them.
“I love it,” Nesbitt said. “This is all about making the community better.”
The mural, across from the Herald-Journal’s downtown offices, will consist of the Grain District logo alongside yellow-and-orange grain stalks on a brown background.
Students, working in teams of four or five, used stencils to apply the painted grain under the direction of USC Upstate professor and artist Michael Dickins. Dickins and others with Hub-Bub will touch up the mural next week, then use a pressure washer to “distress” the art.
Macdonald said he hoped the mural would stand out as a source of pride, replacing what would otherwise be a drab gray wall.
“It’s a good use for an otherwise ugly wall,” he said.
Parker said it was interesting to see the students work together, despite having only known each other for three days and coming from many different backgrounds.
The camp is funded by USC Upstate and a variety of community partners, including Spartanburg School District 7, the United Way of the Piedmont, the Spartanburg Housing Authority and the Judy Bradshaw Children’s Foundation.
The mural was a partnership between the camp, Hub-Bub and the city of Spartanburg.
Lauren Rogers, a senior business major at USC Upstate, is head counselor for the camp and participated as a student years ago from Spartanburg High.
She’s participated for the last five years as both student and counselor and said the experiences have left a lasting mark.
“This is a rewarding opportunity,” Rogers said. “I wish it would last longer than a week. It’s bittersweet that it’s my last year.”
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