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Community Mural Unveiled at Optimist Park

A mural dedicated to local community members in Central Columbia was unveiled Sunday afternoon at Optimist Park.

About 50 people from the Central Neighborhood gathered to see the mural, which took 10 weeks to paint on a fence in the park. The project was part of the Career Awareness Related Experience program, which helps adolescents find entry-level jobs.

One of the women featured on the mural, Mary Smith, said projects like this help bring people together. Smith has run a beauty salon for 34 years.

"I think if we all work together and if we see each other’s needs and we help out, this makes us have a better community," Smith said.
While working in the town for decades, Smith has seen and helped several generations of families.
"It’s like, 'I did your grandmother’s hair and I did your mama’s hair and now I’m doing your hair,'" she said.

Smith is featured on the left side of the mural, while Pat Kelley is on the right. Kelley is the co-founder of the Ridgeway Neighborhood Association. In between Smith and Kelley are boys playing basketball, a dog and butterflies.

The mural painting — along with another mural at the Downtown Optimist Club — was a joint effort between Jabberwocky Studios, the City of Columbia, four students who participated in the Career Awareness Related Experience program and two student volunteers.

The Career Awareness Related Experience program is administered through the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department and hires at-risk 14- to 20-year olds who live or go to school in Columbia. The program partners with local businesses to place students in jobs in Columbia.

Ron Schmidt, Career Awareness Related Experience program supervisor, said it is an important tool for youth in Columbia.

"It keeps youth away from crime," Schmidt said. "All communities want their teenagers to grow up to be self-sufficient, productive adults."
Jaden Perkins is one of the students who worked 20 hours a week on the project during the summer. Perkins once dreamed of being an art teacher, and the mural let her experience what it might be like to do that.

"It gave me an opportunity to do something I used to want to do whenever I was younger," she said.

Supervising editor is Tyler Wornell.