Alyssa Ramos, 9, rolled brown paint over a wooden fence on Kenmore Street in Central Islip. Like many fences in the area, it had been tagged with the MS-13 street gang name.
"It really stinks to see the graffiti," said Alyssa, one of more than 100 volunteers armed with paint and brushes, who took to the streets of Central Islip Saturday, to cover up graffiti.
The event followed the successful cleanup of neighboring Brentwood in May, organized by Brentwood's Clean Streets Committee. Alyssa's father, Mike Ramos, and his cousin Marcos Maldonado are co-chairmen of the committee, which with the Central Islip Civic Council organized Saturday's cleanup sponsored by the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association and Rep. Steve Israel's (D-Huntington) Community Service Outreach Team.
"Mike and I had a vision to paint over all the fences that had been graffitied in the neighborhood," said Maldonado, 29, who had toured the neighborhood with Ramos, taking pictures in preparation. "And there's no better way than this event to get the whole community out and working together."
With about 200 gallons of Sherwin Williams paint - the company donated half - the volunteers covered up 80 graffiti sites in Central Islip.
"We're trying to take back the community," said State Sen. Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point), who secured a $150,000 grant that purchased a truck equipped with power-washing tools and chemicals to eradicate the graffiti. The truck, owned by the Town of Islip, will be used to further the ongoing cleanup, said Foley.
"Painting over these fences sends a positive message . . . It shows the community that the residents haven't given up on Central Islip," said Ivelise Cabrera, 27, program coordinator for Youth Enrichment Services, Inc., one of several community groups that volunteered.
And the volunteers didn't only cover up graffiti - new art was created. Melinda Gomez, 25, a Brentwood High School art teacher, designed a mural for the Knights of Columbus building on Carleton Ave. It depicts a tree with hands of different ethnic backgrounds that spell "peace" in American Sign Language.
"I had a certain vision for it," Gomez said, putting the finishing touches on the mural, "but everyone came through with their own ideas and it looks even better than I imagined."
"It's not only about covering the graffiti," said Jessica Bryant, 26, a student at Touro Law School in Central Islip who helped paint the mural. "It's also about encouraging people to take pride in their neighborhood. Now when I go to school every day, I'll be driving past this beautiful mural," she said.