Seton Hill students focusing on giving Monessen ‘jump-start’

April 20, 2017
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Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Closed sidewalks, vacant storefronts and pothole-filled streets make walking or driving along Donner Avenue in Monessen difficult for pedestrians and motorists.
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Seton Hill University social work students, alongside members of the community, will hold a cleanup and beatification day in Monessen this Earth Day weekend. Students and volunteers will work together to clean up the city and help to bring hope back to the community.

Students in Dr. David Droppa’s class “Generalist Practice III: Organizations and Communities” at the Greensburg college, met recently with Monessen residents and city officials to find out what the city needs and what they could do to help.

Breanna Myers, project leader, said students began planning this project at the beginning of the semester and conducted research in order to find a community that needed help. Myers said they were told Monessen would be challenging, but that was just more of a reason to go there. She said as social work students they wanted to help the greater good and worked to find a community that really needed support.

Myers said upon visiting Monessen and speaking with store owners and community members about what they think the community needs and discussing the strengths and weaknesses, they determined that Monessen would be the city they would focus on.

Myers said during their research they learned how much pride the people of Monessen had for their city. She said one of the goals of the cleanup and beautification project is to help to draw business back into the city, which she said was a concern of many of the people.

Myers said the first portion of the project Saturday will be to clean up litter and the second portion of the project Sunday will be to plant ground-covering foliage that would help to stop erosion, which she said was an issue that was also brought to their attention. She said they received advice on planting from Kenneth Yonek of Mon Valley NAACP, who will helping them with the planting.

She said as students, this experience has given them more confidence and has taught them how to take control of situations. Myers said this experience has “allowed them to grow and to see how a community works and functions.”

Myers said students from Seton Hill, Westmoreland County Community College and possibly Community College of Allegheny County are expected to help out, as well as members of the community and local churches. “We are hoping that we will get a good turnout,” she said.

Myers said the city has plans to continue these cleanup efforts periodically.

Droppa said he began teaching this course last year and required students to develop a project as a team.

“Students learn best hands-on,” Droppa said. He said projects like this give them experience working with a community to initiate change.

He said students first did research and decided to focus on Monessen. He said despite Monessen being a fading steel town, the people were very proud, engaging, and welcoming. “They felt they really got a sincere welcoming in Monessen,” Droppa said. He said the students researched Monessen, including that it was the site of profitable tin mines prior to the steel mills.

“They discovered the story of Monessen: like so many rust belt cities, an industrial past, and with the passing of the mills, the need to develop new ways of economic support. And unlike a lot of smaller towns and cities, they found that Monessen has not lost heart. It is courageous and hard-working and engaging,” Droppa said.

He said the students contacted Mayor Lou Mavrakis and attended a council meeting, where they discussed a number of ideas and decided on picking up trash and beautifying the city based on what the community had told them. “They didn’t want to do anything that would be done and forgotten,” Droppa said. He said the idea was to give residents a jump-start in taking responsibility and to build hope for change coming to Monessen.

Mavrakis said there is a big issue with litter in Monessen. He said the street department is constantly cleaning up and said it is a “never-ending cycle.” Rodney Freeman, street department supervisor, said his department also dealing with empty lots that people have been using to dump garbage.

“We will take all the help we can get from the outside,” Mavrakis said.

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