HOUSTON A Unity Committee formed in Cleveland hopes a bumper sticker is the first step toward rebuilding the Liberty County city s image after a series of high-profile crimes and incidents.

I believe the bumper stickers are going to say something, said Unity Committee member Kim Shelton speaking about the impact and message she hopes the bumper stickers will carry.

The bumper stickers will say I (Heart) Cleveland, TX.

Our sole purpose is to keep unity in the community, said Shelton. And to prove to people outside of Cleveland that there are people who love this little town.

The bumper stickers, on order now through the Cleveland Civic Center and expected to be printed and available by July 4, are the committee s response to several incidents that have brought the news media, sometimes national news media, to the small town along Highway 59.

The court proceedings are still winding their way through the Liberty County Courthouse for as many as 19 men and teenage boys accused in the gang rape of an 11-year-old Cleveland girl. Earlier this year a dozen Cleveland High School students fell ill and were taken to the hospital after a fellow student distributed prescription medications on campus. And at least two major marijuana growing operations have been discovered in the last 12 months near town.

Cleveland ain t never had that kind of bad news we ve had the last year, said Liberty County resident James Crumpton.

I just think it s terrible. And you know it doesn t give Cleveland a very good reputation, added his wife Rochelle.

Shelton said she and other members of the volunteer Unity Committee know that a bumper sticker isn t going to change two years of bad news. But she says it s a first step to restore pride for beleaguered residents.

It s a statement. It s a start. It s a beginning, she said. I think it s going to make a difference. I really do.

You can order a bumper sticker by calling the Cleveland Civic Center at 281-592-2395.

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