TTC, YST Collaborate On a Wall With A Message

Associate Editor

DRAWING HOPE: This mural has been made available to homeless youth who find their way to the Youth Services of Tulsa at 311 S. Madison Ave. The mural was completed due to the collaborative efforts of Debra Sellers, advertising design instructor at TTC’s Lemley Campus, and Liz Crampton, volunteer coordinator for YST. Also participating were the Tulsa Area United Way, Anchor Paint and QuikTrip.


It’s always a beautiful thing when volunteers come together to make something nice happen in a community. Tangible evidence of this appears on the west wall of a small downtown building made available for homeless teens by Youth Services of Tulsa (YST).

The building serves as a safe haven stopover for the estimated 1,800 local and transient youth found any day on the streets of Tulsa. The interior of the building has been adapted to accommodate the needs of young people who drift from city to city pursuing a life style that most youths and adults find unimaginable. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of YST, Tulsa Technology Center, United Way, Anchor Paint Company and QuikTrip, the outside of the building now features a beautifully illustrated message targeting the homeless youth subculture.

Debra Sellers, Advertising Design Instructor at TTC’s Lemley Campus, and Liz Crampton, Volunteer Coordinator for YST, came up with the idea to take on the project during a tour of the YST facilities. The street outreach building is located across the street north from the main YST building located between third and fourth on Madison. When Crampton pointed out the building to Sellers, she immediately saw it as an opportunity with great potential for her graphic design students and for the United Way Day of Caring.

It was probably a combination of the appeal of the mural project and the enthusiasm of her students that enabled Sellers to lure several graphic design students back from summer break who would form the core group of student participants.

According to Sellers, the project planning began with sit-down discussions. “We approached the project just like any marketing opportunity by first examining who the audience was and what kind of message would reach out to them. As I had hoped, it soon became a learning opportunity on many levels.

“First, the project required collaboration and team building, skills successful commercial design artists need and art students all too often lack. The group dynamics tasked students with honing verbal communication skills to express and sell their ideas to others in the group.”

Sellers observed completing the project put the students in touch with the feeling of satisfaction and pride that comes from community service. But most important to the instructor and the students, the mural project helped the students empathize with young people living on the edge of impoverishment who are otherwise surprisingly little different from anyone else.

Sellers facilitated the discussions as the students began to explore a youth subculture they knew little about. The discussions focused on how underage youth end up homeless and on the street. What kind of life circumstances force youth into a world fraught with dangers ranging from physical and sexual abuse to drug addiction? The students learned what YST staff understands all too well, underage youth are living on the street because it is almost always the lesser of two evils.

“All the students involved in the project came to realize that homelessness can happen to anyone and just like many adults who live one paycheck away from a life on the street, many teens are one family argument away from the same situation. It was, to say the least, a profound lesson,” says Sellers.

After hours of deliberation and many revisions, the graphic design students finalized the mural design and began the process of transferring their drawings to the 48-by-10 foot wall of the YST street outreach building.

Tulsa-based Anchor Paint donated the estimated 30 gallons of paint and QuikTrip provided containers and other necessary materials for the 65 TTC students who showed up on United Way Day of Caring to fill in the traced outline of the mural.

The result of everyone’s efforts was a stunning portrayal of the struggles and issues facing homeless youth. The imagery of the mural carefully strikes a difficult balance between fear and hope, anguish and survival. And it sends a message to youth living on the street that here is a safe and understanding place for you.

If the whole experience of creating the mural wasn’t rewarding enough for everyone involved, United Way selected the project as recipient of its prestigious Day of Caring Golden Paintbrush Award, a fitting tribute to a beautiful thing.

Updated 10-26-2006

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