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Butterfly sculpture dedicated downtown

When most people think of art, they think of oils, clay, mosaics n but welding?

That may change in Suffolk, thanks to a metal sculpture dedicated Monday afternoon on the triangle of land bordered by Carolina Road and South Main Street in front of the Main Street Jazz Club.

The sculpture, which depicts three butterflies in flight, was the brainchild of Thomas Shirk, a welding instructor at the Pruden Center for Industry & Technology.

Through funding provided by the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant Program, the Pruden Center for Industry & Technology has been hosting a summer program to introduce kids identified as at-risk to welding.

Participants spent the first five weeks of the program learning the basics before getting started on a project of their own.

“We did projects that kids could take home,” Shirk said. “Most of them know nothing of welding or even why they’re in the program, but by making something they can take home, they get interested.”

Shirk said it was through discussions with Toni Craig, who headed up the grant program through the courts system, that they came up with the idea of one big project. It wad designed to get the kids excited, to give them something in which they could really take pride.

Shirk, who operates a business called Creative Web and Design, designed the butterfly sculpture.

“The kids accepted the idea readily,” Shirk said. “They knew they would be making something people could see and they could step back and say ‘look what I did.’”

The completed sculpture had been on display at the Pruden Center until Deanna Holt, an analyst with the city’s economic development department, saw it.

“Deanna looked at it and agreed it was a beautiful piece of work that should be displayed somewhere,” Shirk said. “We knew the cause was good and it was just a matter of finding a good location.”

Among those attending the dedication ceremony was Mayor Bobby Ralph, who said the butterflies in flight were symbolic of what is happening in Suffolk.

”We want the city of Suffolk to be on the move,” Ralph said, “but we want it to be in a graceful manner, a manner which our citizens can enjoy.”

More than 75 at-risk juveniles in Suffolk were provided services between 1998 and 2004 under the $20,000 grant.

According to Craig, funds were expended to send identified at-risk juveniles through anger management training and to provide intensive supervision those whose behavior warranted additional structure, as well as sending several through the welding program.

Craig had praise for the welding program, noting many of the graduates either interviewed for positions with the Naval Shipyard, Northrup Gruman Shipyard and other private welding companies.  She said some graduates also sought to advance their skills by returning to the Pruden Center and enrolling in a traditional welding program.

“I try to help the kids realize that they have to have some kind of skill if they’re going to make it,” Shirk said.