A 60-foot mural completed by the students of the Labor of Love project; the painting represents the nations here in the Community with a beautiful arrangement of warm and cool colors. This is the second wall completed by the students in their first year.

Labor of Love: Youth at Risk Summer Program

By Dustin Hughes
Au-Authm Action News

The Labor of Love art program is a positive outlet for youth and young adults within the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community which allows students to express themselves artistically. In its second year as a pilot program, the Labor or Love summer program for at risk youth has made leaps and bounds, offering youth here in the Community a chance to change and see the bigger picture.

Within the Community boundaries, signs, vacant walls and other property are clothed with vandalism. The program organizers try to focus on the positive, rather than the negative aspects by harnessing the artistic expression into something beautiful.

Graffiti is commonly used with vandalism in the same sentence. However, a recent shift in the art world has recognized that “graffiti style” art has become more accepted and embraced on multiple platforms.

Community member, Elaina Osife, Labor of Love project manager, recognized this shift and began to work closely with the Community Development Department-Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Division (CDD/EPNR) and Salt River High School to create this program and redirect youth and young adults towards a universal art of expression. Osife’s number one goal is to work on beautifying the Community.

“Community members and employees in our Community understand that many of these youth and young adults have artistic skills and need redirection to express themselves. The Labor of Love can teach those interested [in our program] to use their skills in universal ways,” said Osife.

The positive driving forces in these students’ lives are instructor’s Dwayne Manuel and Thomas “Breeze” Marcus. Both are Community members and local artists who have made a huge impact in the street art world and in the Community. Manuel received his master’s degree from the University of Arizona and looks to teach art within the Community. Marcus has made a name for himself in the Phoenix area as one of the best mural painters and lives by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s words, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

In other words, take action. Both Manuel and Marcus did; they took action after realizing what the youth within SRPMIC needed.

What does the program entail?
The lectures range from Hohokam/O’odham history, contemporary and historical art, aerosol art history and self-identity.

The different mediums covered in the program are charcoal, graphite, airbrush typography, skateboard deck painting, gourd painting and mural painting.

What do students get out of this program?
Students not only learn about art and expression, they also learn about respect, responsibility, culture, heritage, and more importantly, themselves.

Students also collaborate with the Graffiti Abatement Program and learn what vandalism does to their Community. Benny Johnson, graffiti abatement technician, visits with the students and explains what his job duties are and the costs of cleaning up vandalism. Afterwards he stays with the kids and witnesses first-hand the talent here in the Community. Dawn Sinoqui, assistant Public Works director of Community services and Richard Carlos, grounds and roads maintenance manager, are also part of the graffiti abatement program.

Collaboration is another character the students develop by teaming up with other local artists to produce a meaning mural which showcases their voices and talents.

Students will also have the opportunity to come back the following year and be a mentor, allowing for them to be a teacher and teach what they learned.

Although the Labor of Love is in its second year of the pilot program, it has covered and uncovered a tremendous amount of ground. Working with the youth and guiding them, Manuel and Marcus have contributed to the SRPMIC youth and prove to be leaders and positive reinforcement in their lives. With the program’s positive success, the Gila River Indian Community looks to adopt the program and use it within their Community.

Stay tuned as Au-Authm Action News follows the growth of the participating students and their final project.

Labor of Love is always seeking positive volunteers, special guests, monetary support and donations. Donations in the form of walls (for indigenous art displays), monetary support for traveling and special guests in all fields including photography, welding, graphic design and more are appreciated. Spending 30 minutes to an hour with the youth can change a life. Volunteers are needed on Saturday’s. To seek more information about how you can volunteer, donate or just learn more about the Labor of Love program, contact CDD/EPNR Elaina Osife at (480) 362-7616 or

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