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'They wanted to make everybody smile': Kids' chalk messages bring joy across Middletown

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They went all over Middletown, hoping to strike fast and not get caught.

They started at the police station on Thursday, March 26, and then moved on to the fire station a few blocks away.

The get-away driver kept them moving as they worked their way from groceries stores to businesses, one after another from one end of town to the other.

It sounds like an impressive, well-thought-out crime wave.

But it was a chalk wave — a chalk wave of love and inspiration led by 10-year-old Derian Butler of West Emaus Street.

It started when Derian’s mom, Kasey Sharp, showed him photos of inspirational chalk messages drawn on the sidewalk to recognize those fighting on the front lines against COVID-19 at the UPMC hospital in Harrisburg, where Derian’s dad, Derek Butler, works.

“He said he wanted to do something like that,” Kasey said.

They started at the police station, also on West Emaus Street, with Derian and his mom joined by Derian’s good friend and fellow chalk artist Haylee Klick, also 10.

Kasey said they had plenty of chalk so they didn’t hold back. They filled the station sidewalk with messages like “You guys rock,” “Thank you for keeping us safe,” “You’re amazing,” “You’re so cool,” “Keep smiling,” and “Praying 4 you.”

Just outside the side door used by the police officers only were the words “Hero Entrance,” with a large heart drawn on either side.

That might have been enough for most kids, but not for Derian and Haylee. After hitting the fire station on Adelia Street, “they said ‘we want to do more. Where else can we go?’” Kasey said. 

She suggested they go up to Giant and then Rite Aid, where the people provide the medicine that makes people feel better.

Then they decided to start hitting some of the local restaurants that were still serving food — J & J’s and Hops and Barleys on East Main Street, and onto Tattered Flag making all the hand sanitizer for folks.

Then it was onto Roberto’s, Kuppy’s, Karns and the whole way out to Hardee’s and The Hop Yard, where they ran out of town, and chalk.

The next day they got more chalk. Derian and Haylee were joined by a third culprit, Aaron Erb, also 10, who also lives nearby and who goes to school at Reid Elementary School with Derian and Haylee.

They hit the other side of Giant and some of the other businesses at Midtown Plaza. It still wasn’t enough. They delivered their messages of love and hope to their heroes working at Frey Village and at the Middletown Home, and at the Sheetz and the Sharp Shopper.

A few days of rain washed away the chalk, but what the kids did was preserved forever in photos that were taken and posted on the Facebook pages of the Middletown Police Department, the Middletown Volunteer Fire Department, and others.

“On Thursday, March 26th, Middletown Borough Police Department was visited by a great group of kids who left their mark and touched our hearts with some amazing sidewalk chalk messages for our Department,” the MPD wrote in a post on its page. “In these uncertain and trying times, always remember that we stand firm, protecting and serving, no matter the risk or the danger, and will forever continue to do so.”

“Thank you for your kindness, love and support during these trying times,” the Middletown Volunteer Fire Department posted on its Facebook page.

The act “reminded the guys and gave them a clear focus of what our mission is, and what we are here to do right now,” said Kenton Whitebread Jr., chief of the Middletown Volunteer Fire Department.

Firefighters and emergency responders accept that, typically, it takes something like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for what they do day in and day out to be recognized, the chief said.

That’s all right because “We’re not here for thank you’s and everything else,” Whitebread added. “But when we get them, it tends to put (it) into perspective and give these guys a focus of what we are actually doing and making a difference.”

The chalk messages were a nice shot in the arm for the folks at Hops and Barleys, owner Steve Wian told the Press & Journal.

“We aren’t nurses and doctors. We are not on the front line but that moment we sure thought we were. It just meant we were helping,” Wian said.

The chalk messages were a pleasant surprise for the folks at Kuppy’s Diner on Brown Street.

“It was very uplifting and a great start to the day,” co-owner Carol Kupp said. “It is so nice to know that people care about what is happening to so many families and businesses.”

Derian said he and Haylee and Aaron wanted to do the chalk messages because these days are “hard times for all of us.”

“It’s just a way to spread some joy,” Derian said. It was also a lot of fun, and a good way to get out of being cooped up in the house all day.

“We were trying to be sneaky and do it without being caught,” Derian said. They wanted to get away clean, and then watch and see the surprise reactions.

But sneaking up on cops is hard, and the kids got busted by the police before they were done at the station. They also got busted at the fire station.

Kasey, who works as a corrections officer at Dauphin County Prison, said that the inspiring actions of her son and the others came as no surprise to her.

“They have always had really good hearts looking out for each other and other people,” she said. “They wanted to do the whole town. They wanted to make everybody smile.”

Middletown Council President Angela Lloyd said she was impressed by the chalk kids’ “wonderful feel-good gesture.”

“In a time that has been stressful for everyone, a thoughtful act of kindness can really make a positive impact,” Lloyd said. “I think we can all appreciate the time and effort they put into spreading joy, building the morale of the town, all while thanking those that are out on the front lines during these challenging times. It’s just a really heartwarming thing. I am so proud that we have such caring youth in our town.”