NEWKIRK — The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program is the United States’ largest youth recognition program, based exclusively on volunteer community service. Created in 1995 by Prudential and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), the program honors middle level and high school students for outstanding service to others at the local, state and national level.
Oklahoma’s middle school honoree for this year is Hannah Cross, 14, of Newkirk, a member of the Newkirk Go-Getters 4-H Club and an eighth grader who spearheaded a project to turn the foliage-covered side of an historic building at the entrance to her town into a colorful mural depicting the history and sights of the area. Cross is proud of her town. She used to live in a suburb with no Main Street or historic district, she said, but now lives only blocks away from “stunning historical buildings.”
One of the oldest buildings, a 1915 structure, was seen as a “blank canvas” by more than 6,000 people driving through town each day on U.S. Highway 77. She wanted to do something about that wall, which is an entrance into Newkirk’s historic downtown.
She obtained permission of the building’s owner to beautify its exterior, recruited more than 40 volunteers, negotiated a discount with the local Lowe’s for supplies and borrowed scaffolding from a friend. Volunteers first used chainsaws and tractors to remove the trees and bushes that covered the building’s side. After that was cleared, Cross used a putty knife to scrap out the roots that had dug into the brick wall’s grout. When the surface was ready, volunteers spray painted the wall. Then, six local professional artists, paired with students, transferred their rough designs to the wall.
After more than 220 volunteer hours, the 12-by-25-ft. mural was completed with scenes that include a covered wagon, an American flag, an historic bank building and school logos.
“I hope this bright, friendly mural will be a greeting into Newkirk for the next 30 years,” she said. “Main Street is truly a tremendous treasure and a legacy for the next generation; it is our responsibility to protect and promote it.”
Thus far, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards has recognized more than 140,000 young people who’ve made a difference – and inspired countless others to consider how they might contribute to their communities.