Family Promise Mural, Reading, PA

Kutztown,PA: Sometimes on our beautiful Berks county campus we forget 16 miles away our county seat, Reading, is the poorest city in the entire U.S.A. Thanks to KU Prof. Ann Lemon for providing this story.

 Mural Volunteer, photos © Ann Lemon
Mural Volunteer, photos © Ann Lemon

Reading,PA: The mural at Family Promise of Berks County in downtown Reading was a collaborative effort between the Outreach Team of Immanuel UCC Church of Shillington and KU’s Designathon.

Designathon is an annual KU Communication Design event where students work for free for 24 hours to design projects for worthy nonprofit groups. The Designathon team consisted of Prof. Denise Bosler and designers/illustrators Mellen (Melissa Reinbold), Isaiah Arpino, Michelle Foster, Dana Harrison, and Brian Martin. Amos Lemon Burkhart, junior designer, was the link between the designers and the painting team from Immanuel. This mural’s “Wild Things” theme was suggested by Family Promise Director Gwen Didden.


Family Promise is an interfaith program providing homeless families a place to stay together ­through local churches.  This program is unique in that it keeps family units together. In a typical week, it serves three families, providing 168 meals plus shelter. Families are housed at local churches on a rotating basis. Although families sleep at host churches, they use the day center for services, like laundry and job training.


The Immanuel Outreach team transformed a vacant, gnarly yard at the Family Promise office into a playground for the homeless kids. The team pulled weeds, laid down mulch, and provided outdoor toys. The cinder block wall was an eyesore. Reverend Megan Huesgen and Sue McCoy of the Outreach Committee thought UCC parish teenagers might contribute a mural. KU faculty member Ann Lemon was drafted to design it. She turned to Designathon.

The Designathon process was remarkably smooth. Mellen took charge and the group collectively decided to assign characters, animals, and background elements to the various artists. Everyone sketched ideas, met to pick the favorite parts, then scanned and vectorized the final art into a unified scene. A simple palette of eight solid colors was chosen to make the painting process easier.


The paint was donated by Sherwin Williams. The design was traced on the wall using both a grid technique and projector. There was some excitement the first morning of painting when a car slipped out of gear, smashing through the back fence of Family Promise. No one was hurt. The hole in the fence made it easier for 30 plus volunteers to find the site. We had painters as young as 3 years old. A full crew of painters from Immanuel showed up, as well as KU Prof. Kate Clair and her daughter Sasha, and friends. Fleetwood High students helped, too.summer_mural_pics7

The painting took two and a half days, during beautiful cool, sunny weather. The exterior latex gloss paint went on beautifully. At one point the guys who hang all day at the neighborhood garage approached the volunteers and asked, “So, what is this mural FOR?” We explained it was to brighten the play yard for the homeless kids. Prof. Lemon added,”So I guess the purpose is to make people smile. Do you think it will work?” One guy took a long hard look. He smiled and said, “Yes.”

Ann Lemon and her son Amos Lemon
Ann Lemon and her son, Amos Lemon Burkhart

2 thoughts on “Family Promise Mural, Reading, PA

  1. This is fantastic! Our graphics department is beginning our approach to paint a mural in a playground area of a special needs charter school, by the end of March 2014. Any tips in regards to type of latex paint you received from Sherman Williams; outdoor of course, but any acrylic base in it? Also besides key players identified, how many volunteers participated all together? Really appreciate your formula for your plan of action! Two more questions on donation of paint, How many cans did you end up with and did Sherman Williams convey donation value? Realizing design will dictate quantity of colors and cans, just trying to gather up our funds estimate in case donations are hard to come by. Appreciate any feedback you are able to give.

    Many thanks,

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