A historic Athens children’s home site has been commemorated with a colorful mural

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Every symbol on the new mural on the East State Street underpass, from paper airplanes to peanut butter sandwiches to pinwheels, tells a unique story.

These stories celebrate the people of Athens and their commitment to caring for needy children. The mural also connects to the past and celebrates the future.

Then, Athen County Children Services decided to embark on a unique beautification project. This artwork is not just about aesthetics; it connects to the past and celebrates the future.

“We really wanted to remember our history and kind of remember where we came from in this community and how the community supported us,” said Matthew Starkey, the public information officer at Athens Country Children Services, the agency which commissioned the mural.

Athens County Children Services was created by John Fowler, a philanthropist from Washington County. Fowler was displeased by the services children, mostly orphans, received from the county’s infirmary. To change this, he raised funds to erect a new building that would solely serve the needs of the children who depended on the county for survival.

Thus, the first-ever children’s home was built in 1881 on what is now East State Street.

A photo of the old children's home on East State Street in Athens
A photo of the old children’s home on East State Street, built in 1881 and demolished in 1982 to make way for the Route 33 overpass. [Photo provided by Athens County Children Services]
In 1982, the home had to be torn down to make way for the construction of the US 33 overpass. To honor this piece of history, a giant mural now sits exactly where the children’s home used to be.

The mural is symbolic. Every element of it reflects a community project or local event organized by Children’s Services. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich represents the Peanut Butter and Jelly Project, where the community donates money and Children’s Services buys and distributes peanut butter and jelly to families that need food assistance. The paper airplane signifies Kid Fest, which is a fun-filled day where the Athens community gets together to celebrate children.  The Christmas tree denotes the Santa Tree Project, where community members provide hundreds of children with gifts for the winter holidays. And the pinwheels bring attention to the Pinwheels Prevention Event, which focuses on child abuse prevention.

Mandi Caskey is the mural artist who brought this vision to life. She prides herself on taking over any environment with her work and giving people who interact with the work a sense of pride.

“When I create pieces such as this in smaller rural communities like I am from, it is important to me that I reflect the community back at them and also give them pride in where they live and a safe space,” said Caskey who is wrapping up work on the mural this week.

A photo of an artist painting a mural on East State Street in Athens, Ohio
Artist Mandi Caskey paints a mural on the underpass of Route 33 where the old children’s home used to be. [Betty Kankam-Boadu | WOUB]
With a history of working with children, Caskey felt it was important to involve the county’s children in the process, so she suggested letting the kids draw the five pinwheels. After a competitive process among the children in five Athens County schools, five winners emerged, and their pinwheel designs were represented on the wall.

“For the kid that participated and won the pinwheel project, I really hope they feel a lot of pride in what they did,” said Caskey. “Art is something that is super important culturally, and if we can cultivate that at a young age, I believe that is something that will last with them for years to come. I hope they come out here and sign their pinwheel as well so they can literally be a part of the project as much as possible.”

For someone like Adrienne Covington, who grew up in Athens, the mural excites her any time she passes by.

“When I see it, it feels really meaningful to me as these are stories I have known since growing up here, and so it is beautiful to see that portrayed largely so that people that pass by can see and wonder what those things mean,” said Covington. “And it just brings more awareness to the kids in Athens County that have to exist through the foster system.”