COLUMBIA, Mo. - As Columbia city leaders talk about gang activity, a group of middle schoolers are trying to erase some signs of it. On Thursday, more than 20 Truman Leadership Project campers hit the streets in downtown Columbia to pick up trash and clean up graffiti.
Camp leaders say cleaning up the streets isn't only a message from them, but it should be considered a message from the entire city. They say it's great to have ideas about what needs to happen, but actually going out and doing it shows they do care about what happens in Columbia.
For about an hour, campers scrubbed away signs of graffiti in downtown Columbia. Some tell ABC 17 News they've volunteered before, but this is unlike anything they've experienced.
"It's extremely frustrating that people just vandalize something that isn't theirs," camper Madalynn Owens said. "They destroy something they have no right to destroy."
Owens said this is the first time she's done this type of work and within 10 minutes of starting, she had three people thank her for what she was doing.
Camp directors say that just goes to show what they're doing really does send a message.
"Doing that small little bit does send a larger message that we care about Columbia and we want this to be a safe, clean, friendly environment the way we know and love it," Truman Leadership Project director Megan Ogar said.
Camp directors said graffiti cleanup was one of the projects requested by the city. It was one area where the most help was needed.
Campers said even though they weren't cleaning very long, they believe they're making an impact.
"There's more interaction with the people because you have people actually coming up to you and saying ‘Thank you, you're making a huge difference,'" Owens said.
The camp will continue through Friday and all of the activities involve some type of community service. Camp leaders said they've had overwhelming support for the camp. They hope it will become even bigger next year so they might be able to take on more tasks.
Campers also spent time cleaning the stream in Flat Branch Park.