A couch, a car, a tent. To most of us, these are emblems of comfort, freedom, fun. To local youth experiencing homelessness, they are the only things keeping them from sleeping on the streets.
To draw attention to the plight of these young people, the first of five pieces of cardboard art is now on display in front of Centre Market on Market and 22nd streets in Wheeling. The series continues with a new painted cardboard cutout each week in a different location. Each piece is accompanied by a story based on a youth served by Youth Services System.
The installation leads up to Nov. 8, when YSS’s ninth annual Wheeling SleepOut takes place. The SleepOut is a team-building event that raises money for YSS’s Transitional Living Program, which serves youth who have been or are in danger of becoming homeless.
“The idea behind the art installation was to create awareness throughout the community not only for the Wheeling SleepOut, but for the whole homeless youth population. Our hopes were to create a new perspective for the public to understand the severity of these issues and to connect with them on a more personal level. Each piece represents the stories of individuals that we serve at Youth Services System,” said Candace Drzik, an AmeriCorps VISTA-West Virginia Promise volunteer serving in the YSS Development Office.
Fellow VISTA Caryce McGurn conceptualized the project, and together they contacted city officials and businesses, constructed the pieces and made it a reality.
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“The city of Wheeling has been awesome in the process of getting permission to be able to do this. They gave us everything we needed and pointed us to exactly where we needed to go to ask the businesses who are participating. Every one of them immediately said yes when they were asked. It kind of blew me away. I can really feel the passion to make a change in this community,” McGurn said.
Future dates and locations of the installation are:
• Through Oct. 7, Centre Market, Market and 22nd streets
• Oct. 10-14, The Health Plan, 1110 Main St. (Market Street side)
• Oct. 17-21, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, 2121 Main St.
• Oct. 24-28, Vance Memorial Presbyterian Church, 905 National Road
YSS is seeking sponsors and participants for the SleepOut, which is an overnight event held at the Miracle League field at the city’s J.B. Chambers I-470 complex. Individuals and teams raise money leading up to the Nov. 8 event and then are invited that night to construct cardboard structures to sleep in. The family-friendly event includes prizes, live musical entertainment, food, costumed characters and more. For more information or to donate, visit www.wheelingsleepout.org.