A group of incredibly impressive kids and their passionate, dedicated teacher at Brownsville Area High School in Fayette County, are getting national recognition for helping jumpstart redevelopment in their boarded up downtown.
They started working on this project 6 years ago and just saw their work come to fruition with a brand new park and amphitheater in downtown Brownsville. Driving through downtown Brownsville can be depressing. It can feel like time just stopped. But there is now a bright spot — a brand new park, new trees and a new amphitheater — all the creation of students at Brownsville Area High School who turned their sadness into action.
Chemistry teacher Kelli Dellarose has been the students’ advisor since the project started six years ago. She says the students came up with the idea to improve their downtown. “A lot of the buildings were boarded up, and nothing was down there. There was no green space; nothing down there whatsoever — no economic development, no reason to go downtown,” Dellarose said.
Now, what used to be a dilapidated old hardware store is a park with a stage for the community to perform, gather and celebrate. The students raised $370,000 for the project, through grants and fundraisers.
Brownsville High School senior Alexandria Seto says of the park, “It’s a light in all the darkness. It’s very beautiful. It shows the downtown has a lot of nice things and shows you can either look at the nice things or dwell on the not so nice things.”
The students put in a lot of time and work to make this project a reality. After coming up with the idea six years ago, they worked with the people and organizations involved to get approval, attending many meetings and giving presentations. They worked with architects and engineers to finalize their ideas.
They raised the money by starting with smaller fundraisers, then applying for grants. They got the help of the Redevelopment Authority of Fayette County, which helped with more grants, leading to support from UPMC Health Plan and the Heinz Endowments. They even had bigger fundraisers, like a concert with Joe Grushecky that raised about $5,000.
Dellarose said, “Not only have (the students) had lessons in engineering and other aspects that went with the curriculum, they’ve also learned a few lessons in politics along the way, and of course how to become a better citizen.”
The students also learned not to let age hold them back. Senior Lanieta Waqanivalu said the hardest part was, “just trying to get over the barrier that we are young people trying to make such a big difference. Usually, it’s not something you hear about all the time.” Seto adds, “I don’t think it’s a certain age you have to be to get anything done that you want to do. I think it’s more of how much you want it and the heart you put into the project.”
The students’ project helped jumpstart development around the park. A building right across the street is now being renovated into a senior high rise, the library next to the park is considering an addition, and the Brownsville Revitalization Corporation is renovating some storefronts.
Brownsville Area School Superintendent Dr. Phil Savini said, “It’s bringing back a sense of pride that has been lost for quite some time.” That pride is in the downtown district, the school, and the students, for the accomplishments and many awards, including regional and national Jefferson Awards for public service.
Dellarose, who also won top student advisor in the country for the Jefferson Awards last year, says she always had faith in her students. “I’m not surprised at all,” Dellarose says. “I’ve worked with so many wonderful students over the years, and if you just give them that little push, you’ll be surprised at what they will accomplish.”
Now that the park and amphitheater are built, the students are continuing their fundraising for maintenance of the park and facility. If you’d like to contribute, you can contact Brownsville Area High School.