Visual artist Corey Ochai makes it his mission to positively promote the district he calls home.
“I want people to get a bird’s-eye view of Sharpsburg and all the beautiful things here,” said Ochai, 36.
Ochai started a Facebook group called The Beautiful Sights of Sharpsburg four years ago, and the public group has grown from 12 members to more than 300.
“I wish more people would take part. It’s like a little news station for Sharpsburg,” Ochai said.
Family-friendly and peppered with heartfelt, inspirational video messages from Ochai, the group encourages contributions from Sharpsburg residents and the public.
Courtesy of Corey Ochai
This mural at 6th and Main Streets in Sharpsburg caught the attention of The Beautiful Sights of Sharpsburg Facebook group.
“I want people to go to the site and come out better people and know what Sharpsburg is about,” Ochai said.
From a video of a curious duck near the Allegheny River to posted images of rainbows, winter snow scenes, spring flowers and Sharpsburg’s community garden in bloom, the Facebook group shows everything that’s going on in Sharpsburg, home to approximately 3,100 people.
“Good morning, beautiful world,” is the standard greeting Ochai often uses in his video messages on the site.
Ochai owns a full-service podcast studio called The 1028 Podcast, located at 1028 North Canal Street in Sharpsburg.
Most mornings he can be found getting his morning coffee from Redhawk Coffee Roasters, down the street from his studio.
Redhawk owner Mary Gonzales is a member of Ochai’s Facebook group and described him as a “wonderful human being.”
“He’s a great asset to Sharpsburg. He really brings the community together through his deep-rooted love and appreciation for everyone around him,” Gonzales said.
Mindy Heisler, co-owner of Mindy’s Take & Bake on North Canal Street, is among those who have dubbed Ochai the “unofficial mayor of Sharpsburg.” She met him about two years ago.
“I think he’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. His focus is bringing cool things to Sharpsburg. His general vibe is how do I make things even greater? He’s always doing things here to make things better for his neighbors. He’s one of those people who has a heart the size of Texas,” Heisler said.
Sharpsburg Mayor Brittany Reno praised Ochai’s efforts, describing his actions as “energizing” for the community.
“He encourages and inspires people to achieve their dreams here in Sharpsburg. His energy and love for life, people and community are infectious,” Reno said.
Ochai is also an artist and mainly sells his work on Instagram.
Courtesy of Corey Ochai
Kong Mentality is an acrylic, oil, pastel, and mixed media paper painting by Sharpsburg artist Corey Ochai.
“I am inspired by the black American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. He’s absolutely the person I look up to the most,” Ochai said.
One of Ochai’s favorite spots is James Sharp Landing, a waterfront area on the Allegheny River.
“There’s absolutely a vibe there,” Ochai said, noting that bald eagles, beavers, deer and cranes can be seen along the river.
Raised in Braddock, Ochai grew up amid financial hardship with three siblings and a hard working single mother.
“My mom tried her best, but it was a struggle,” Ochai said.
Ochai graduated from Woodland Hills in 2005.
At 19 he was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma, a rare bone cancer with numerous cancerous tumors throughout his body.
“It really was the best thing that could have happened to me,” said Ochai. “I didn’t live life on the right side of life and I wasn’t on the right path. I lived like there was no tomorrow and when cancer hit me I thought life was precious.”
After more than six years of chemotherapy, Ochai is pleased to report that he is in remission.
He discovered his love for art while taking art therapy classes related to cancer recovery.
“I love Sharpsburg because it has low crime, affordable housing and the people are so inclusive,” Ochai said. “It’s like I’m this goldfish in this environment that was created for me to thrive,” he said.
Ochai meets his wife, a nurse, while he is undergoing chemotherapy.
They have been married for 12 years and have two small children.