WATERLOO, Iowa --- Jessica Young can't help but get emotional when she talks about the mural a group of young artists are painting on the side of her downtown business.
She was watching Wednesday as members of the Youth Art Team climbed ladders and perched on scaffolding to create the colorful peacock on the side of the Kistner Building, 316 W. Third St., which houses the Plaid Peacock store.
"I think it's amazing the kids can do something so powerful," Young said. "They're all such sweet kids too."
This is the fourth major project for members of the Youth Art Team, which started in 2010 through a relationship between church members and children in the Walnut neighborhood. Volunteers with Harvest Vineyard Church in Waterloo and Orchard Hill Church in Cedar Falls now coordinate the group, which includes about 24 Waterloo and Cedar Falls children between the ages of 5 and 18.
Two stories up, Jayda Hampton painted the peacock's tail feathers.
"It makes me feel like I'm part of something," said the 11-year-old Waterloo girl. "I feel free when I paint. I can do whatever I want."
Hampton said she isn't scared about working up so high on the scaffolding but later admitted, "I was at first."
Her younger sister, Sanaiah, 9, was working at ground level.
"I love it because I love to paint faces," she said.
Heidi Fuchtman, coordinator of the Youth Art Team, said Jessica and Greg Young, who bought the Kistner Building in 2010, contacted the team about the highly visible wall facing U.S. Highway 218 near the Cedar Valley SportsPlex and RiverLoop Expo and Public Market. The Youngs heard about the team's mural at the Immanuel Lutheran School site, which is being torn down for a new pharmacy.
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The kids met with the Youngs about the project before doing research at the library. The eventual designs, all done by the children, were melded into a final design --- a peacock with traced silhouettes of the young painters in each of the tail feather spots --- and sketched on the building. The Sherwin Williams stores in Waterloo and Cedar Falls each donated paint, and work began Aug. 25.
"We're hoping to be done by the end of the weekend," Fuchtman said.
Sixteen-year-old Joshua Henkle, of Waterloo, wasn't able to paint Wednesday but still stopped by to check on the progress.
"I'm liking it," said Henkle, who is glad he had a hand in the mural. "I got sunburned the other day, but otherwise it's fun."
Adult volunteer Laura Hoy said the Youth Art Team members are learning they can do great things in their community at an early age.
"It's empowering them," she said. "We adults don't get to touch the wall. It's 100 percent students."
The Youth Art Team's first project in the fall of 2010 involved paintings sold to raise money for a school and artists' group in Haiti. Their works netted $380.
The youngsters wrote and performed an original play, "Night at the Five Sullivan Brothers Museum," last March and raised $490 for the African-American Historical and Cultural Museum.
For more information about the group's activities, visit www.youthartteam.blogspot.com.