‘Clean and Green’ Works for Teen-Agers
Michael Holloway says his first summer job is tough but rewarding.
For the last three weeks, the 14-year-old from East Los Angeles has been working with friends cleaning up sites around the city: picking up trash, planting trees and painting over graffiti.
The work, paid for by the city’s new “Clean and Green” youth employment program, is designed to make Los Angeles more beautiful and--just as importantly--to give students at city schools pride in a job well done.
Michael says it’s working. “When we first went out, we were embarrassed of our uniform. But people would stop and say, ‘Nice going.’ That makes us feel good.”
Wearing tan pants and green T-shirts, high school and junior high school students work in teams of 10, supervised by adult leaders. Students from schools around Los Angeles filled up the program’s 300 slots soon after it was created on July 1.
“The interest is definitely there,” said Martha Diepenbrock, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, which is administering Clean and Green for the city. “We could have a program three times this size and still have kids on the waiting list.”
Under the program, the city pays junior high school students the minimum wage of $4.25 an hour and pays high school students $4.50 an hour to work 24 hours a week. Clean and Green will run for eight weeks during the summer and on 27 Saturdays during the school year at an estimated annual cost of $1.1 million.
Four mornings a week, students work at clean-up sites chosen in cooperation with community groups and city agencies. In the afternoons, they discuss their work, learn basic survival skills such as how to cash a paycheck, and conduct community surveys to gauge local residents’ attitudes toward the clean-up effort.
Pat Baylis, a counselor and former teacher at Hollenbeck Junior High School in East Los Angeles, said she decided to become a team leader for the clean-up program because “this year I wanted to do something different from teaching summer school.” She added, “I think this is about as different as you can get.”
As a team leader, Baylis said, her “biggest delight was watching them build trust and teamwork.”
For their part, students enrolled in the program seem to be enthusiastic. Adrian Leon, 14, said he likes the chance to work and has recruited a friend for the program. “I tell ‘em that it’s helping out in the community and they’re getting paid for it, so it’s twice the fun.”
The task of cleaning up a city can seem like a losing battle at times. On Thursday, for example, 16-year-old Maritce LaCruz and her teammates were painting over a graffiti-strewn wall in East Los Angeles when a group of teen-agers walked by and promised to mark the wall up again once the clean-up crew was gone.
“One of them said, ‘Ah, man I’m going to come and paint my name all over it,’ ” she said. “We all know that they’re going to come and do it.”
Jim Lindstrom, the team leader, said, “People are going to come through and mess it up again just as soon as we’re done. What can you do?”
But Lindstrom said his team’s effort that morning was by no means wasted. “A lot of people go out there and learn through the school of hard knocks,” he said. “This is a way they can learn without getting knocked around.”