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Sulphur Springs youth create murals to support Community Stepping Stones

The mural on the Sulphur Springs Theater was created by Community Stepping Stones. The nonprofit uses art to improve the lives of at-risk teens in the Tampa neighborhood.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times (2010)

The mural on the Sulphur Springs Theater was created by Community Stepping Stones. The nonprofit uses art to improve the lives of at-risk teens in the Tampa neighborhood.

Trey Fitzgerald remembers the day he and the other Community Stepping Stones students made papier-mache musical instruments and staged an air band concert.

And he also recalls how they crafted a giant squirrel with a blond wig.

Lakeema Matthew still laughs about Bob, a lifelike work she helped produce with other students. With the lights off, you couldn't tell if Bob was real or fake.

"He used to scare me," Matthew laughed.

They also could point to more serious works they helped produce at Community Stepping Stones, a nonprofit that uses art to shape the lives of at-risk teens in Tampa's Sulphur Springs neighborhood.

They have played a role in the creation of three significant murals created by Community Stepping Stones students, and want to do more — for the right price.

The first, You + Me = Community, at Tampa's Rowlett Park featured various images of women. When someone noted it only included ladies, the kids responded, "Exactly."

"Women play a huge role in the neighborhood," Matthew said. "The fathers are not in our lives. It's the grandmamas and the mamas that take care of you."

Added Fitzgerald: "My mom has a hard time raising two kids in a single-parent home. We're thankful for all the strong moms. We wanted something to show the strength of those women instead of mourning for a lack of a father."

Exactly became the name of the second mural at Rowlett.

Matthew, 21, and Fitzgerald, 18, speak about their Stepping Stones experiences with the flourishes of a critic and the wisdom of a professor.

Those fun pieces and the murals embody not just joyous days, but the lessons they learned about following your passions, dealing with anger and handling the expectations of a world that can be too real.

"These memories are really important to my childhood," Fitzgerald said. "A lot of kids may not get the opportunity to have the kind of memories we got from Community Stepping Stones."

To help prevent that from happening, Fitzgerald and Matthew have joined the staff to promote a new social enterprise for the nonprofit: creating murals for businesses the same way they created murals for public places.

It's called Artistic Mural Messaging, and any business that wants to redecorate one of its outdoor walls with a captivating image can sign up.

Not only will the business get stunning work for an amazing price, but it can help the kids earn money that can compensate for the shrinking pool of government support and grant dollars.

The money will provide for the next generation of teens who need to learn the same lessons that have helped Fitzgerald become a budding musician and moved Matthew to within a few classes of getting a graphic arts degree from Hillsborough Community College.

Community Stepping Stones kicks off the effort with an interactive gallery from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Ybor City HCC Art Gallery, Palm Avenue and 14th Street. Go to for more info.

The show is entitled, "Paint the Possible," and the latest mural from the kids features a spectacular rainbow.

It's appropriate when you realize a business can help instill a brand of hope that represents an endless array of possibilities.

That's all I'm saying.

Sulphur Springs youth create murals to support Community Stepping Stones 07/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 10:37pm]
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