SHIRLEY -- The Avenue of Flags was the Shirley Charitable Foundation's first initiative.
Others since include the popular Summer Concert Series that has become a seasonal tradition and various events co-sponsored with other nonprofit groups in town.
With its familiar "Celebrate Shirley" logo, SCF is now a go-to for charitable endeavors, partnering with and providing an organizational umbrella for other charities and civic groups. Even the selectmen tapped SCF last year to help them administer a charitable trust that benefits town seniors.
Established in 1999, the then-fledgling group spent its first year setting up the nonprofit organization, according to founding member Ron Marchetti. The following year, SCF rolled out its first project.
SCF purchased 50 flags of the United States of America with wooden poles and sidewalk stanchions for $100 apiece. With selectmen's blessing, they installed them along Front Street, creating the "Avenue of Flags."
Flown on national holidays such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the Fourth of July, the flags are stored at the north fire station and put out and taken down by local Boy Scouts.
This year, with the flags out for Columbus Day, two were stolen and torched in the village. A 38-year-old Waltham woman staying at a Davis Street apartment was arrested for burning the flags and charged with several related offenses, including vandalism.
After spending the weekend in lockup, she was arraigned in Ayer District Court when a pretrial hearing date was set.
According to the arresting officer, Peter Violette, the police didn't know who owned the flags at the time.
The foundation owns the flags and insurance should cover the loss, but according to SCF treasurer Kevin Johnston, the organization had not replaced the missing flags as of last week. The board had not been notified, so they hadn't discussed the matter yet, he said.
Tracing the program's history, he and Marchetti said Boy Scout Kenneth Swain restored the flags a couple of years ago as his Eagle Scout service project.
Swain cleaned all the flags, which by then were showing wear and tear, as were the wooden poles, which he sanded and refinished. He also reset the metal holders in the sidewalk, Marchetti said. "We didn't have to do a thing."
Of the 50 flags, only two were beyond repair and had to be replaced, he said. "He did a great job."
Several years ago, SCF came up with a way to grow the array and make the program more accessible by opening up the option to purchase flags in memory of loved ones.
Presented with the idea, the selectmen were all for it. "I bought one for my mother," Marchetti said. Their names are displayed on a plaque in the town offices lobby.
Further enriching a living project, Johnston sketched the next stage in its evolution: nascent plans that would virtually turn the Avenue of Flags into a circumferential highway, forming an unbroken line-up from Main and Front streets and Whiteley (war memorial) Park in the heart of Shirley Village to the Municipal Complex and beyond, perhaps eventually extending out to the Historic Common.
So far, he said, the idea is still at the pre-planning point, with no additional flags purchased for the purpose.